If a rising tide lifts all boats, what does a strong economy do for a local airport? Sends it soaring, if the current experience of the Moore County Airport is any indication.

That is certainly what longtime aviation expert and airport director Scotty Malta sees as the region emerges from coronavirus-related restrictions.

“There is a lot of pent-up travel demand,” says Malta, who began his job a year ago just as COVID-19 was shutting everything down. “When that breaks loose, we see that as an upside.”

Indeed, now that we are moving into the busy spring golf season, the skies over Moore County are seeing more corporate and private aircraft headed into “SOP,” as the airport is known to pilots.

Although there has long been no commercial passenger service at the airport, which is located between Carthage, Whispering Pines and Southern Pines, there is no lack of economic activity and growth going on there. And that is undeniably good news for the local economy.

‘We Are Blessed’

Now entering its 10th decade of service, the airport has a long history. What began as just a grassy strip for the well-to-do and aviation buffs grew into a small base for Army training during World War II. After the war, the airport served a variety of aviation interests and, for a time, boasted commercial air service that connected to larger airports in Charlotte and Raleigh.

That service has been long gone and, given the dynamics of the air travel industry, not ever likely to return. But the Moore County Airport over the past few years has developed a comfortable niche not just for private pilots but also businesses that have some aviation connection.

“We are blessed,” Malta said, “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.”

Indeed, the airport can’t build hangars fast enough to keep up with space demands.

“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.

But in addition to making money selling fuel and repairing planes, the airport also partners with the military, both for training as well as storing aircraft and working with military contractors. Malta said the airport is 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.

More to Come

More expansion is on the horizon, especially ahead of the 2024 U.S. Open and four others the U.S. Golf Association has committed to have here over the next 25 years.

These include ramp repairs to the asphalt area closest to the terminal and replacement of all airfield lighting. That last project has been prioritized to help support the 2024 Open. Two new hangars and a service road are also in the offing.

All together, the state’s Department of Transportation recently estimated in a report that the airport produces more than $90 million in annual economic impact.

Such reports can be squishy, at times, in their estimations, but the underlying theme is that the airport does well at serving the county’s economy. The golf resorts and other tourism interests rely on the easy access the airport offers travelers, and the large community of private pilots favor the convenience offered.

So while it’s been a tough year in aviation, it appears Moore County’s airport is lined up as business prepares to take off again.

(4) comments

Kent Misegades

“Such reports can be squishy, at times, in their estimations,” No, they are nearly useless and a waste of taxpayer money. What counts are the airports books. Are they in the red or the black? One of the best recent improvements to the airport is the Sandhills Fliers flying club. But the airport still lacks a self-service fuel station, one of only a handful of county airports in the state without one. More hangars would be built by private investors if they were granted long-term leases on the land, say 50 year’s. A restaurant in the empty terminal with an observation deck on its roof would be a huge attraction. Just visit the Pik n Pig restaurant at the private Gilliam-McConnell airport in Carthage to see this. Returning a grass airstrip parallel to the paved runway would be a welcome addition. Richmond County airport has one. A nice playground and picnic pavilion outside the fence would also be great. People love coming to an airport to watch planes.

ken leary

Wonderful - Expansion, more noise and air pollution, and probably increased cost to tax payers so that those that prefer to travel by jet, or just tool around in their toys, can be accommodated. We are truly blessed.

Kent Misegades

A home leaf blower makes far more noise and for much longer than an occasional airplane passing overhead. It probably also makes more pollution, given the efficiency of today’s aircraft engines. The airport was way out in the country before people started building homes around it. It was there first. Nearly all larger aircraft using the airport are essentially business tools. Their users’ time is too valuable to be wasted with the TSA circus of airline travel.

Kent Misegades

And. your average small private airplane is worth about as much as a new SUV or boat. It gets flown maybe 50 hours a year, about the same as a boat. Or an old sports car.

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