Originally created 06/16/04

Work paves way for profits



AIKEN - Additional layers of asphalt and a revamped concourse at Aiken Municipal Airport have officials giddy over the terminal's potential for increased profits.

With help from the Federal Aviation Administration and state grants totalling $2 million, the airport is set to bulk up its longest runway with 3 inches of fresh asphalt within about a week, said Zipper Robbins, co-owner of Aiken Aviation Enterprises, which leases the airport from the city of Aiken.

The added pavement will increase the 5,500-foot runway's load-bearing capacity from 40,000 to 70,000 pounds, making the airport more attractive to large planes typically used by corporate visitors.

"It's an economic incentive," said Larry Morris, the city's director of public works, who oversees airport operations.

The thicker runway also means more profits from gas sales for Aiken Aviation and the city. Planes currently can't fill up their tanks because of weight restrictions, City Manager Roger LeDuc said.

"The heavier the plane, the more fuel they use, the more money we make," said Tony Meeds, an Aiken Aviation employee.

The city also is improving the airport's shorter, 3,800-foot runway. On Monday night, the Aiken City Council gave preliminary approval to a $550,000 loan to the airport to repave the strip, which is typically used for smaller planes. The city plans to borrow money from its own savings accounts and pay it back as it sells land around the airport, which Mr. LeDuc estimated in the hundreds of acres.

The exterior improvements are complimented by roughly $1.2 million the city spent on a posh, wood-paneled terminal, complete with a boardroom and lobby that has been frequented by political and corporate visitors.

"The money we spent seems to be paying off," Councilman Don Sprawls said. "I think it's making a difference with first impressions."

Improvements to the airport attracted Mark Radaskiewicz. The city council voted Monday to lease part of the airport's terminal to the Bridgestone/Firestone engineer, who plans to run a Cessna Pilot Center flight school there.

He said he and his partners plan to spend $20,000 to revamp part of the terminal with a training center and office space.

"We're targeting businesspeople who don't want to travel in busy commercial airports anymore," he said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.