Airport moving forward with expansion program

Charles Warner Editor

October 8, 2013

UNION — The clearing of 100 acres of trees will enable aircraft flying into the Union County Airport to engage in “non-precision” landings in inclement weather without guidance from the ground according to Airport Director Ronnie Wade.

The airport is in the midst of a program of expansion with the ultimate goal of lengthening its runway from the current length of 3,500 feet to 5,000. Once it reaches 5,000 feet, the runway will be able to accommodate corporate jets that must now land in Spartanburg even if their passengers are coming to Union.

Wade said the next phase of the expansion process is designed to enable aircraft to approach and land at the airport in inclement weather when visibility is limited.

“We’re working at this point now on the approaches,” Wade said. “We have two or three GPS approaches and what this allows you to do is come within 600 feet of the runway in inclement weather. What it depends on is how we set this up. We will probably be a non-precision runway which means a corporate jet can come within 600 feet of the runway in inclement weather.

“Non-precision means an aircraft can come in and land without being directed from the ground,” he said. “At larger airports like Atlanta and Charlotte there are air traffic controllers who direct planes where to land. Smaller airports like Union cannot do this, but with GPS planes can land without direction from the ground. We’ve come a long way with technology.”

As part of this process, Wade said the airport will be clearing 100 acres of trees from the Union end of the runway.

“We’re clear-zoning the approaches,” Wade said. “The clear zoning will involve about a hundred acres of trees. That hundred acres includes 75 acres of forest land which the county owns. It includes 25 acres that we’ve purchased from the neighboring property owners. We will be cutting those trees down flush to the ground so you can bush hog or mow over them.”

Wade said the clearing of the trees will cost $179,312, with 90 percent paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration and the balance evenly divided between the State of South Carolina and Union County. He said the process should take six-eight weeks to complete.

After the trees are cleared from the Union end of the runway, Wade said the airport will be able to open both ends of the runway to non-precision landings by GPS-equipped aircraft. He said this could increase business at the airport as more and private aircraft are GPS-equipped.

Wade said the completion of the clear zoning on the Union end of the runway will allow the airport to shift focus to the other end.

“Our next step is an airport layout plan,” Wade said. “That will determine what we are going to do on the other end of the runway. We’ve gone as far as we can on the Union end of the runway. The S.C. 49 end will be what the plan addresses and future additions will be on that end.”

Wade said that developing the plan will include environmental testing, soil testing, and noise assessment.

“When you get through with all that you will have a layout plan that will show you which way you will expand and what you will have to do,” Wade said. “It will lay all of that out, but the expansion will likely be done in phases like the last expansion which was 500 feet.”

Even though the expansion process is still underway, Wade reported that the airport is busier than ever.

“We have 21 planes operating out of the airport including 20 in the hangars and one tied down,” Wade said. “All the hangars are now occupied and there’s a list of aircraft owners waiting to rent.”

In addition, Wade said that sales of aircraft fuel doubled in September over the previous month. He said pilots purchased a total of $1,800 worth of fuel from the airport’s self-service fueling system in September.

Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at cwarner@civitasmedia.com.