Mon Aug 8, 2022

Takeoff soon for Columbus airport upgrade

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Phil Edwards, director of Columbus County Airport, says planned upgrades to the facility will benefit economic development. “If anybody comes in that will bring in any business or any jobs, you want your airport to be attractive and inviting,” Edwards said. Staff file photo by Justin Smith
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It’s often said that the front porch of a home can be one of the most important parts, as it gives the first impression to guests and prospective buyers. For Columbus County leaders who want to see economic development, that front porch might not be U.S. 74–76 or U.S. 701 driving into the county, but rather the airport.

The Columbus County Municipal Airport, located just south of Whiteville, will soon have architectural work begin on a new terminal, new hangars and much more as the county aims to modernize it.

Gary Strausser of Pennsylvania checks his Embraer jet at the Columbus County Municipal Airport. Staff photo by Justin Smith

“It will benefit the county because the airport is the gateway to the county,” said Columbus County Airport Director Phil Edwards. “If anybody comes in that will bring in any business or any jobs, you want your airport to be attractive and inviting.”

The Columbus County Airport hasn’t had major renovations in a long time and that hampers certain travelers, including business owners, from flying in. These planned renovations are possible due to $7 million from the state budget allocated directly for airport renovations. 

“You want it to be nice,” Edwards said. That’s one of the first things [business owners] need. If you don’t have a nice airport, they might want to go to another airport.”

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A drawing of the proposed airport layout from Talbert and Bright Engineering and Planning Consultants of Wilmington shows the location of a new terminal building, new hangars and aprons, new car parking, access road changes, corporate hangars, new taxilanes, 200 feet of runway extension, widening of existing aprons and more. 

The plans also include potentially acquiring and clearing neighboring tracts of land for safer approaches.

The drawings show the additions coming in different phases over the next 20 years. No airport plans are final, explained Columbus County Manager Eddie Madden.

“The original terminal building is in much need of replacement because of its limited size and floorplan,” Madden said. “A newer, modern terminal building is vital to making a good first impression on prospective businesses and industries that fly in as well as current businesses and industries that frequent the airport.”

Edwards said that the bigger planes the airport can accommodate and store, the better it’ll be for economic development.

Madden, who is soon to be president of the North Carolina Airport Association, noted a past study by the state Division of Aviation showing that tax revenue, jobs, housing and other effects of the airport already bring an economic impact of $167 million to the area.

“The investments that the county and state will be making over the next few years will improve upon the facilities, expand the services of the airport, and broaden the economic impact to Columbus County,” Madden explained.

Edwards said that, in a couple of weeks, he and other county officials will start talking to architects about the work.

“We’re in the preliminary planning stages,” Edwards said. “I don’t know exactly where we’re going to build stuff or how much. But it won’t be long before we get started.” 

Some space the county already owns around the airport will need to be cleared out, and water and sewer will need to be connected to the new terminal building, Edwards explained.

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