2015-12-17 / Front Page

Ground broken on newest Washington-Wilkes Airport expansion

By KIP BURKE news editor


Airport Commission members, commissioners, engineers, and members of the community turn the first shovels of dirt for the airport taxiway. Airport Commission members, commissioners, engineers, and members of the community turn the first shovels of dirt for the airport taxiway. A ground-breaking ceremony was held last Thursday afternoon at the Washington-Wilkes County Airport to celebrate the next in a series of several expansion projects that will help Wilkes County attract more business and industry.

“Due to the continuing growth and success of the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has chosen to fund this $2.5 million project to build a parallel taxiway all the way to the west along the runway,” said Phil Eberly with Lead Edge Design Group.

“You’ve got an airport here that has essentially really grown in the last few years,” Eberly said. The airport operator, Kinsey Butler, “has a thriving business in Southern Air Repair, and has a great reputation. People want to be here at the airport, your hangars are full, and you need more hangars.”


Airport Commission Chairman Harris Blackmon (right) explained reasons for airport development to the crowd as engineer Phil Eberly (left) and Wilkes County Chairman Sam Moore wait to join in the ceremonies. Airport Commission Chairman Harris Blackmon (right) explained reasons for airport development to the crowd as engineer Phil Eberly (left) and Wilkes County Chairman Sam Moore wait to join in the ceremonies. The upward momentum of the airport is part of what attracted the $2.5 million in government grant money. Introducing Joseph Robinson of the DOT, Eberly said, “This is discretionary money for the FAA and DOT. At their discretion, they decide which of 104 Georgia airports are deserving of that money, and which facilities they want to invest in. When they make a decision to put $2.5 million in discretionary money here, it’s because they recognize the work you’ve done, they recognize the opportunity here, and they’re investing in your future. That doesn’t just happen; that’s earned, so the leadership you’ve shown to get here is important, and the leadership you continue to show gives confidence to the DOT and the FAA to continue to support you.”

This project is the beginning of several projects that will make up “a generational change in the airport,” Eberly said. “Again, your hangars are full, so you need more capacity, there are constantly evolving safety criteria with the FAA and DOT, so effectively you’re going to get a taxiway put in here, and once that’s in, it allows a new entrance road to be built out to Newtown Road. That will allow the old road to be closed and the runway extended ultimately to 5,000 feet.”

Extension of the runway to 5,000 feet will allow business aircraft to take off with full loads of fuel. “So from a business perspective, you’ll have more recreational use of the airport, more business use of the airport.”

Having a full taxiway along the runway is primarily a safety consideration, pilots say. “One of the big reasons we did this project is for safety,” said Harris Blackmon, long-time chairman of the Wilkes County Airport Commission and the driving force behind development of the airport. “You don’t want two airplanes on the runway at the same time, and without a parallel taxiway, we’ve had instances where an airplane has been trying to land while another airplane was taxiing out to take off. That’s not a good thing – we always try to have maximum safety at the airport.”

Both Blackmon and Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore thanked the Lead Edge Design Group, the FAA, the GDOT, and the Wilkes County Airport Commission. “The airport commission has been going forward lately,” Blackmon said. “All our members have been working together as a great team to bring this to fruition, and we couldn’t have done it without Lead Edge Design and Phil Eberly.”

The improvements are already improving the economic prospects of Wilkes County, Blackmon said. “This is going to be a great way for people to come and visit, and we’ve already had people visit Wilkes County, buy property, and move here, so it’s been a great thing. That really begins to drive job creation and impact economic development in the area.”

The better our airport, the better the opinion industries looking to relocate will have of Wilkes County as a possible site for a new plant, Moore said at Friday’s Wilkes County Payroll Development Authority. “That’s one of the considerations they look at, and I know every improvement we do at the airport improves our ability to attract new industry.”

Members of the Wilkes County Airport Commission other than Blackmon are Terry Boswell, George Brooks, Dann Standard, Wilkes County Commissioner Charles Jackson, and Sparky Newsome.

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