11/28/06 — Study finds area airports helping Duplin, Wayne

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Study finds area airports helping Duplin, Wayne

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 28, 2006 1:45 PM

They aren't the size of Raleigh-Durham International or even the Kinston Regional Jetport, but three local airports are having a big effect on the economies of Wayne and Duplin counties.

According to a study recently completed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Aviation Division, the Goldsboro-Wayne Municipal Airport, the Mount Olive Municipal Airport and the Duplin County Airport are combining to bring more than $28 million into the two counties annually.

All three are considered small airports and none host a regular carrier or operate regularly scheduled flights.

Instead, they are classified as general aviation airports, which means they are open to public access -- whether by emergency, military, charter or private aircraft -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Such use, though, is becoming increasingly popular, said the managers of all three.

"Any business of any caliber, when they come to town to do business, they're coming on an airplane," Duplin County Airport manager George Futrelle said. "They provide so much access for corporate-style travel and that's what we're serving nowadays."

And having the ability to serve such customers, Mount Olive Town Manager Charles Brown said, is becoming increasingly important for economic development and attracting new industries.

"In today's business climate, when owners or executives travel, they want to fly to their site. Time is money to them," he said. "There's a certain amount of legitimacy that having an airport gives to a town the size of Mount Olive."

Mount Olive's airport is located near its industrial park.

"When businesses look at the industrial park, the location of the airport is definitely a selling point," Mount Olive Airport manager Mike Bass said.

In Duplin County, having the airport available has allowed several locally based businesses to expand their operations, Futrelle said.

"Our airport is an important part of our community. Aviation is a key component of economic development," he said.

Much of the airports' use comes from fuel stops and their based aircraft. Of those, fuel is the airports' biggest commodity.

"Our bread and butter is fuel," Futrelle said. "We're a combination welcome center, rest area and service station -- a truck stop for airplanes. We're a gateway to Duplin County."

A gateway, he added, that is worth about $9 million a year.

"That's a lot for Duplin County," he said.

Mount Olive also is seeing a significant return on its investment.

"When you can invest $23,000 today (the town's portion of the airport's yearly budget) and get a $4 million return, it's very worthwhile to the town," Brown said.

Being the largest of the three, Goldsboro-Wayne Municipal Airport is, of course, worth the most -- generating more than $14.5 million annually.

"We believe the airport has tremendous economic impact on our community. A lot of it goes hand-in-hand with the local economy," Goldsboro-Wayne Municipal Airport manager Jim Steele said. "When you talk about economic impact, there's several ways of looking at it."

The study measured the airports' economic effect in several ways -- direct, indirect and induced impacts per year.

Direct economic impacts are the result of activities relating to the airport itself, whether through fuel sales, hangar rentals, or salaries of staff and pilots.

Indirect impacts are the result of activities that occur away from the airport, but are attributable to it. Those include things such as visitors stopping and going out to eat or the airport making purchases from local businesses.

Induced impacts are the multiplier effects of those direct and indirect dollars, such as how salaries of direct and indirect employees are spent.

And those impacts are expected to increase as all three airports continue to grow.

Duplin County is almost at the end of a remodeling effort that began in 1989.

All that's left is to add another 3,000 feet to the south end of the taxiway, widen the runway to 100 feet and add another three inches of asphalt to its top.

"We're almost done. Those are the last major projects," Futrelle said.

In Mount Olive, officials are looking to expand their runway to 5,000 feet -- the minimum for many types of small corporate jets.

"Our feeling is that when we go to 5,000 feet, that impact will go up substantially," Brown said.

Steele sees a similar future of growth for Goldsboro-Wayne as it continues to expand and strengthen its runways and prepares to add a new 12,000-square-foot corporate hangar by February.

"Our airport is adequate for what we have now, but it falls short of what we'd like to bring here," he said. "We have a great airport, though. The potential is very real, but probably is greater in the five-to-10-year range than in the one-to-two-year range."