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Mid-sized corporate jets, like this Cessna 560XL, comprise the bulk of the transient traffic at Moore County Airport. Photo courtesy Philipp Wennrich of Airline Pictures.

The state Department of Transportation has awarded Moore County another grant for airport facility improvements.

The $438,000 grant will pay for the initial steps in the process to replace all of the airport’s lights with new, high-performance, energy-efficient LED lighting. The airport will contribute 10 percent of the grant cost.

“This is a huge win for our airport,” said Moore County Airport manager Ron Maness. “We only requested these funds in January. The state is being very helpful and responsive to our requests.”

The airport filed paperwork for a series of improvements to the airport. The top four items were funding for a new master plan for the airport, funding for taxiways to serve new hangars, funding for improved runway lighting and funds to strengthen of the parking ramp to accommodate heavier planes.

All of the first three items now have been fully or partially funded — almost $4 million in grants in just12 months — and airport officials are hopeful the last item will be forthcoming in the next few years.

This latest grant is for the planning and design for new airport lighting. The red and green runway lights are almost 30 years old, corroded and energy-inefficient.

“We’re changing burned-out light-bulbs every week,” Maness noted. “These are expensive, industrial-grade lights but they’re old technology and just don’t last a long time.”

The plan also includes replacing blue taxiway lights and yellow directional signs.

“Switching to LED lights is going to make a big safety impact,” said Pinehurst resident Tom McPherson, chairman of the Airport Authority and a local pilot. “The new lights come on instantly, are brighter and penetrate clouds and fog better. As a pilot who flies in bad weather, I can tell you these lights will make the airport much safer when flying conditions are at their worst.”

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Tom McPherson, chairman of the airport authority, examines a corroded taxiway light.

Lastly, the airport hopes to replace the ramp lighting, which illuminates the airplane parking area. There are 19 of these huge halogen lights on poles or attached to buildings around the airport.

“Those old ramp lights use truckloads of electricity,” Maness explained. “Plus, they take 15 minutes to brighten and generate any light at all. By that time, most planes have landed and the passengers are gone, fumbling around in the dark.” LED lights will power-on instantly, saving money, protecting the environment and making nighttime operations substantially safer.

The preliminary estimate for the entire project is $2.3 million. Construction could be completed in 2021.

“I think we’re being supported by the state because we’re pushing forward with a strategic, thorough and comprehensive 20-year master plan,” said Mike Jones, member of the Airport Authority. “The forecasts in the draft plan show air traffic growth here will be strong and steady, which means we need newer, more modern, safer facilities to handle the additional traffic.”

The new master plan replaces one written in 1996. The new plan won’t be finalized until mid-2020, but draft forecasts of flights and passengers already have been reviewed and approved by the State Department of Aviation.

The forecasts suggest residents and visitors will use the Moore County Airport more often, making an even greater contribution to the region’s economic prosperity. These forecasts will be used to direct airport investments and developments for the next two decades.

“We’re trying to be the best small airport in the state, and the master plan is our road map to that goal,” said Maness. “Our road map starts with forecasts about who will use the airport, how often and why.”

The forecasts were computed by consultants using FAA-approved procedures using the best-available traffic and market data. Overall, the study suggests traffic at Moore County Airport will grow 2 percent annually. The new forecasts suggest there will be a 49 percent increase in the number of airplanes based at the airport and a commensurate increase in the number of take-offs over the next twenty years. Traffic on the busiest day of the year is expected to jump from 62 take-offs a day to 92.

This growth drives the need for more hangars, a stronger apron for parking, and indirectly affects the terminal building, bathrooms, parking spaces and other infrastructure.

McPherson summarized the forecast as “healthy but manageable.” Driving the strong growth is the healthy economy of the region fueled by retirees, the military presence from Fort Bragg, equestrian attractions and golf.

This growth is double the growth forecasted by the state for airports in general, and even higher than the FAA’s own predictions.

“The Sandhills are a premier destination, with a growing population and a vibrant economy. Pinehurst is a hot market for aviation,” said Steve Bright, president of Talbert and Bright, the professional airport consultants based in Wilmington that have guided Moore County Airport for more than 20 years.

For more details, contact the Moore County Airport at (910) 692-3212.

(2) comments

Kent Misegades

The busiest day is only 62 take offs? Does this include touch-and-gos from student pilots? When I learned to fly in the 70s we’d easily have 62 take offs in two hours. But we also had a well-used grass strip for light aircraft operating parallel to the paved runway which handled large piston cargo aircraft and the first Citations. GA airports need to make flying attractive to new pilots. These don’t fly in the dark.

Dan Roman

Ah yes, Kent the private pilot. A private pilots license is at best a license to learn, the equivalent of less than a high school education, aeronautically speaking. A commercial license might be compared to a college degree if accompanied by an instrument rating. An airline transport pilots license comparable to an aeronautical Ph.D. But then again Kent adheres to the Law of Illogical Argument: anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about, and Kent does not. All pilots who don't want to be restricted to only flying during daylight hours, and virtually none do, are trained to fly at night...and all it takes is three takeoffs and landings to a full stop to remain current for night flight. Kent takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion, and he suffers from a conflict of interest, he is only interested in his own opinion and the rest of us are entirely uninterested.

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