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Officials hail impact of Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport / March 19, 2014
If you ask the average resident of Mecklenburg or Brunswick, “What does the Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport (MBRA) do for you?” a lot of them will respond, “What airport?”

On Thursday, Virginia’s Director of Aviation, Randall Burdette, MBRA Manager Dan Middleton and MBRA Commission Chairman John Zubrod met with local officials from Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties and surrounding communities to help them realize the value this airport brings to the area.

It is a vital element to the region’s economic growth and development, according to Burdette, and deserves to be fully understood and supported by the localities it serves.

Facilities like the Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport are worth millions to the area, Burdette explained.

A 2011 study by the State of Virginia claimed the total economic impact of the state’s 57 general aviation airports was nearly $728 million and that the industry sustains 5,155 jobs. MBRA contributes $2.7 million to that total and 34 jobs.

Burdette called it more impressive and efficient to fly officials from a large corporation looking to relocate into a regional airport, than to send a car to retrieve the prospect from the commercial service airport.

It also sends a message, according to Burdette, that the area can meet the prospect’s business travel needs and has a site for shipping and receiving goods and materials in a timely fashion.

He also noted that technology businesses, in particular, are partial to regional airports.

The value of general aviation and these small airports goes beyond the jobs and economic impact the airports provide, said Burdette.

“How many of you remember Hurricane Katrina?” he asked — before explaining how general aviation airports like MBRA provided a lifeline to residents in need, by providing access for medical care, law enforcement, disaster relief, firefighting, flight training, agriculture, postal service, and a host of other important services and resources.

Burdette described Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport as one of the best of the 18 general aviation regional airports in the state, but nevertheless offered suggestions that could make it better and bring more jobs to the area. The attributes and services that Burdette said make MBRA stand out against other regional airports are:

24-hour fuel services for both jet A and 100 low lead fuels,

A 5,000 foot paved runway with precision approach path indicator (PAPI) — a visual aid that provides guidance, Runway end identifier lights (REIL), and pilot controlled lighting,

34 transient and corporate hangars,

Nondirectional beacon, instrument landing system and GPS approaches that enable a safe landing at the airport when the visibility is reduced to 200’ (most regional airports in the state have instrument landing systems that enable landings when the visibility is reduced to no less than 450’,

Access to a newly constructed 3,000 square foot terminal building with dedicated conference room and Wi-Fi.

Over the next six years, MBRA will spend $6.59 million to address some of the areas for improvement identified by Burdette — including rehab of its runway and terminal apron, widening of the taxiway, moving and converting an aging hangar into a maintenance and equipment storage building, and installation of improved taxiway lighting.

There are several improvements, if made to the airport, that could bring jobs to the area and increase the MBRA’s value as a tool for economic development, said Burdette. He encouraged MBRA commissioners and local officials to consider them, including:

adding a turf runway west of the existing runway for use by crop dusters, student pilots and as a training site for groups like the National Guard, because a turf runway better simulates the kind of landing areas the Guard would encounter.

adding ramp tie-downs.

building additional corporate and transient hangars.

developing a partnership with the local schools to promote careers in aviation —over the next 10 years, Virginia will need over 12,000 pilots, mechanics and technicians to replace the current aging workforce.

Establishing a training program for aircraft mechanics and service technicians. There are only 4,864 licenses aircraft mechanics and service technicians in this state. The average pay for these jobs in Virginia tops $55,000 per year.

developing an aircraft painting shop — currently there are none in the state.

adding a restaurant to the facility.

With 300 acres of land, MBRA has more than enough space to offer these additional services, but funding remains the biggest hindrance. The $200,000 in revenue the airport generates each year from hangar rentals and fuel sales is enough to sustain the day-to-day operations, but any improvements must be funded by grants.

MBRA’s share of improvement costs depends on the grant received, and ranges from a high of 50 percent of the cost to 10 percent.

Middleton sees the benefit to some of the suggested improvements, but knows they cannot take place solely through the efforts of mainly volunteers who staff MBRA. He hopes officials will realize that the airport is a valuable business tool and a gateway to tourism.

“The purpose of the meeting today was to show [local officials] the value of what they are supporting and encourage them to support more,” said Middleton.

He also expressed hope that the same officials would help the airport gain access to the $20 million in the transportation trust fund that Burdette says the state has set aside for airport improvements.

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