Airport faces 800-foot hurdle

Chesterfield Airport diptych

A plane parked at Chesterfield County Airport, left, and approaching the runway.

For a small airport, 800 feet goes a long way.

The Chesterfield County Airport is in the planning stages of $14 million, multiphase expansion that would upgrade its infrastructure and facilities to bring in longer-distance flights.

The first step is getting clearance to extend its runway to 6,300 feet from 5,500.

“It’s a very important 800 feet,” said Tom Trudeau, manager of the 550-acre, county-run airport. “It’s the biggest impediment to growth we have here.”

Standing in the way is about 40 acres of privately owned land bordering the northern tip of the airport. The airport will have to purchase much of that land to meet Federal Aviation Administration safety and environmental standards.

Chesterfield County Airport aerial

A bird’s-eye view of the airport. (Courtesy of Chesterfield County Airport)

The airport is in early discussions with the owners of the potentially affected properties, which include two churches, a planned real estate development and several rural parcels. It has met with the owners individually and will hold a public meeting Dec. 6 to discuss the plans further. It also has the option to obtain an easement for use of some of the land.

Trudeau said the reaction from the landowners has been mixed.

“We would have to purchase some land out there, and some folks that own that land are concerned [about] how that would go for them,” Trudeau said. “They just want to make sure they’re covered.”

The airport would look have the upgrades completed by sometime in 2015.

“Airport stuff moves slow,” Trudeau said.

The price for the runway extension will be approximately $9.6 million. That includes design and construction costs, as well as land acquisition and wetland mitigation.

The first phase of the airport’s expansion also calls for additional hangars, a new fueling station and other upgrades that would bring the total price to $14.72 million.

The federal government will foot 90 percent of the bill, Trudeau said. The state will cover 8 percent, and the county will be left to pick up the final 2 percent.

The need for a runway expansion stems from the length a fully fueled – and therefore heavy aircraft needs for takeoff. At the runway’s current length, a plane that wants to fly from Chesterfield to the West Coast or Europe has to stop on the way to refuel.

“It all has to do with how far they can fly without having to refuel,” Trudeau said. Certain aircraft “can’t operate here with a full load of fuel. The expansion means we can take on all comers.”

Chesterfield County Airport is designated as a reliever airport for Richmond International Airport. It handles an estimated 60,000 flights each year.

“We’re supposed to be able to take all general aviation traffic that we can so RIC can focus on commercial traffic,” Trudeau said.

Richmond International Airport has also recently put expansion plans in the works.

Last year it announced a $10 million, 11-acre project to expand an aircraft parking area to ease crowding and to make way for additional planes.

Chesterfield’s expansion should increase that traffic, and that could mean good news for Dominion Aviation, the largest company that operates out of the airport.

Dominion charters a fleet of 13 aircraft out of Chesterfield. It also manages private and corporate-owned jets and runs a retail aircraft fueling business at the airport. The county shares in the revenue of the fuel business.

Thomas “Mike” Mickel Jr., founder and president of Dominion Aviation, said the expanded runway could potentially attract new companies to the region.

“We’re trying to get more companies to bring their corporate aircraft into the Richmond area and see that Chesterfield is the best alternative for corporate aviation,” Mickel said. “This airport was built for economic development. The extra 800 feet will all the difference.”

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What a waste. Looks like somebody’s congressman is bringing home the bacon.