WYE MILLS, Md. – Salisbury Regional Airport leaders met with county and state officials, as well as U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., at Chesapeake College on Wednesday to hash out plans to make the airport more of a major hub.
The airport is looking at four major projects, including expanding the runway. The expansion project is currently awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval, something airport manager Dawn Veatch says is taking a lot of time.
“They don’t want to move as quickly as we do,” Veatch says. “The airport has been under development for 20 years. The FAA, the last time they did a runway extension, they shorted it. And, we want to be sure that this time when we invest in a runway extension, that we don’t have a runway that is again too short. We need to build the ultimate runway now.”
An expanded runway is critical for Piedmont Airlines. Right now, Piedmont can only carry 80% of its passenger load on flights to Charlotte.
“It really affects our profitability on the route,” Piedmont Airlines president Lyle Hogg. “We have no plans on going anywhere, but it would make us more viable. And, more than just Piedmont Airlines, the community really needs a longer runway.”
Veatch says a longer runway would be a catapult for growth. The plans also include building a new corporate jet center and adding a FEMA distribution center that would also serve as a cargo facility. Veatch says they’re meeting with FEMA next month to talk through the logistics and whether they can build a distribution center at the airport.
“We have 2 million people that live here, plus all of our tourists, and three bridges won’t cut it,” Veatch says.
The fourth part of the plan includes a drone facility, which is already in the works. Sentinel Robotics signed a 5-year agreement with Wicomico County. The plans are backed by the county, state, and Cardin, who at Wednesday’s meeting offered his support of the projects.
“Salisbury Airport is critically important to this entire region,” Cardin said. “It’s a magnet for economic expansion and growth for companies that need a working airport. So we got to make sure its infrastructure is up to date.”
If all goes according to plan, Veatch says an expanded runway could be in use by 2021. However, she says that depends on the FAA’s approval.
Other improvement projects already underway include getting running water to the airport. Earlier this month, airport officials announced they had the funding to be able to run six miles of water main to the terminal.