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.