Ashe County continues to make steady progress on its multi-year project to lengthen the airport’s runway.
“I think having a good transportation system, which the airport is a part of, is a piece of infrastructure that would benefit the county’s economic growth,” said Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell.
Eric Payne, Ashe County’s airport manager, said Vannoy Construction Co. began grating the area last September. To this point, the focus of the project has been filling in a depression at the end of the current runway, which is essential to lengthening the runway.
According to Payne, they will be paving, painting and lighting the runway’s extension in the spring of 2013.
The extension will include an additional 700 feet of paving and around 300 feet of grass beyond the runway, in case of emergency stops. This will make the runway over 5,000 feet long.
Once you have an airport runway spanning 5,000 feet, that airport can begin bringing in much larger aircraft, said Mitchell. Mitchell also said the county “might build more hangars” once the runway’s extension is complete.
Landing larger planes is not the reason the county is extending the runway, said Payne. Larger airplanes need longer runways because they have a more difficult time lifting off, especially large planes with piston engines.
This is especially true during the summer, when the mixture of hot air and Ashe County’s high altitude creates an air density not well suited for planes’ takeoff, said Payne.
“Adding on to our airport will accommodate larger planes that need more room to take off,” said Payne.
In some ways, the runway is already designed for larger aircraft because it’s built on a 1.8 grade, said Payne. According to him, this slight slope allows planes to increase momentum taking off and decrease momentum when landing.
Both Payne and Mitchell expressed the importance of maintaining the county’s airport.
“Not having a good airport could be the reason why a business decides not to locate in the area,” said Payne.
“Wilkes has an airport, but Watauga and Alleghany do not, so having a bigger airport means we can serve a broader area than just Ashe County,” Mitchell said. “It can be a way to recruit businesses.”