Delaware airport’s runway expansion finally takes off

After nearly 10 years of planning, the Sussex County Airport’s main runway expansion is underway.

The $4.4 million upgrade at the Georgetown airport will extend the runway from 5,000 feet to 5,500 feet, making it more accessible and safer for larger aircraft. The majority of the aircraft flying into Sussex County consists of small private planes and Boeing 737’s.

“737’s a pretty big aircraft – [the expansion] gives them an extra margin of safety. It allows them to takeoff at a higher gross weight and land at a higher gross weight, which means more range, more payload, capability for them,” said airport manager Jim Hickin.

“This facility is a major component to our local economy, with tens of thousands of aircraft landings each year and hundreds of our citizens employed in good-paying jobs here,” said county council president Michael Vincent. “We must do all that we can to ensure this airport is safe, attractive, and most of all competitive so that it can draw new business and keep business here in Sussex County for many years to come.”

The airport broke ground on the project, Friday, the first step in a larger $25 million, multi-phase plan to modernize the airport with an even longer runway, redesigned taxiways and improved lighting, according to the county.

“This gets us on our way to our 6,000 foot runway goal. This also gets us to our final goal of meeting the needs of the aircraft mix that are using the airport now,” said Hickin. “Our major goal is then the Boeing 757 would be able to use the airport safely.”

“This construction will allow larger aircraft to utilize the airport and attract new business opportunities in Sussex County,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del, a key supporter of the project. “Today’s groundbreaking symbolizes the beginning of a period of economic growth for the airport, Sussex County and Delaware.”

Pats Aircraft Systems, which shares Sussex County Airport’s runway, modifies interiors of VIP corporate jets and manufactures and installs auxiliary fuel systems. When “First” ran a story about the runway expansion last year, the company said at the time it “would definitely offer opportunity.”

County officials say the second 500 foot extension is still in the works, but hopes the airport will have a 6,000 foot runway by 2017. 

Grants from the Federal Aviation Administration will cover the lion’s share of the costs, with the $450,000 balance to be split between the county and the state.

Construction on the first 500 feet begins later this month and is expected to be complete late next year. 

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