Pilots are trained to leave nothing to chance. They maintain meticulous checklists, inspect their equipment carefully, watch the weather and keep their eyes on the horizon.
With 40-plus years experience in aviation, Scotty Malta has a pretty good notion of what's coming this spring and summer.
“There is a lot of pent-up travel demand. When that breaks loose, we see that as an upside.”
Malta had barely unpacked his bags last year when the pandemic hit. The newly hired manager of the Moore County Airport stepped into the job on March 9, a week later planes all but stopped flying.
“We are blessed because in some ways we are not in competition with anyone. If people want to play golf, they are flying here. If people are stationed at Fort Bragg and have their own plane, they are bringing them here.”
In January, the N.C. Department of Transportation’s aviation division released its every other year economic impact analysis of the state’s 72 publicly owned airports. Typically this report is used to help guide future investments and serves as a recruitment tool for aviation and aerospace industry business.
Using data collected pre-pandemic, the study estimated the Moore County Airport contributes $93 million in annual economic impact. Moore County’s other airport is the privately-owned Gilliam McConnell Airfield in Carthage, home of the Pik-N-Pig restaurant.
Malta said economic impact figures include not only direct revenue the airport might generate through taxes and other fees, but takes a big picture view of the facility’s off-site influence particularly to the area’s hospitality industry.
The Moore County Airport, which is labeled “Pinehurst” on certain aviation charts, was built in 1929. Originally called Knollwood Airport, it later served as an Army training airfield during World War II. The county owns the property on which the airport sits, but the operation of the facility is handled by the Moore County Airport Authority.
Malta is preparing for several big infrastructure grant-funded projects that he hopes will soon be underway. These include ramp repairs to the asphalt area closest to the terminal and replacement of all airfield lighting which have been prioritized to help support the 2024 U.S. Open, plus development of two new hangars and a service road.
“All of our hangars are full and we have a robust waiting list. We could build several hangars and we’d still not empty out the waiting list,” said Malta, noting this is a common problem for airports throughout North Carolina.
“The solution is to build hangars, but here is the problem: hangars are hugely expensive and a general aviation airport runs on a tight budget.”
Other important projects on the ‘to do’ list include acquiring land that falls within the runway protection zone (RPZ) as outlined by Federal Aviation Administration guidance, which he estimated will be a $2.7 million reimbursable expenditure.
A more esoteric challenge Malta hopes to tackle is perception. People see airports as a “rich guy’s playground,” Malta said, but he believes there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.
“Airplanes are expensive because the equipment inside of them is complicated. But who is flying these airplanes? A lot of pilots are here for the pure enjoyment of flying, but many others have a legitimate business need to travel frequently. For them, it can be a utilitarian mode of transportation.”
The Moore County Airport also supports significant military activity, primarily through defense contractors who frequently use the facility. Malta said he is also close to signing a contract with the U.S. Army to provide a temporary relocation for a squadron of five or six planes while Pope Army Airfield is closed for renovations.
“They came asking us for help and this airport is very happy and willing to help. We have the space and are very willing to cooperate with our military brethren,” Malta said.
Looking ahead, he also wants to expand the airport’s community outreach including the facility’s flight instruction programs. Capital improvement projects that are not eligible for grant funding but are needed include replacing the main hangar door and parking lot repairs, among other items.
“Some things were deferred for quite a few years and we are trying to eat our way through the list,” Malta said. “I expect fiscal year 2022 will be similar to last year or better. There is a high degree of uncertainty. We just don’t know how things will work out.”