WMBF Investigates: Airport improvement hinges on FAA funding

WMBF Investigates: Airport improvement hinges on FAA funding

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The Federal Aviation Administration provides funding to airports across the country. Some projects that could improve safety and service at those airports hinge solely on winning grant money from the FAA.

The federal agency announced approved grants for 2017 on May 31, two projects in Horry County were selected. An entitlement grant of $82,581 would aid in the design of a Runway and Vertical/Visual Guidance System at Conway-Horry County Airport, and another entitlement grant of $360,000 would go to improve drainage at Myrtle Beach International Airport. Neither grant had an award date listed.

"Horry County Department of Airports continues to work with its consultant, stakeholders, and the FAA on future needs," said Kirk Lovell, director of airservice and business development at MYR. Lovell pointed out other figures released by the FAA show estimated needs at general aviation airports in Horry County.

The report shows a 2017-2021 estimate for Conway-Horry County to be $1,688,666, $4,850,000 for Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach and $2,307,635 for Twin City Airport in Loris.

Pee Dee airport estimates are listed as well. The largest estimated need for a local airport through 2021 is for Darlington County Airport: $7,372,611.

"We need to overlay the runway," said airport manager Barry Kennett. The plan would be to mill the top surface of the runway down and repave it. Kennett said the work would improve safety. He doesn't expect to get the funding to do the work this year.

"We compete with every airport in the Southeast," Kennett said. "If your airport is lucky enough to be above the line [have its grant request approved], you get funded. We've been lucky in the past, but this year we were below the line."

Kennett does expect to move forward with some elements of the project, though. The plan is to design the overlay now, with the hope of funding for it in the future.

"We'll be able to say, 'we've already got a plan, a designed project, and we're ready to pull the trigger," he said.

Kennett said the FAA funds airport projects up to 90 percent. It's up to the sponsor of the airport, Darlington County in this case, to fund the rest. The state of South Carolina is able to fund up to 5 percent of individual projects.

Darlington County Airport does get an entitlement grant of $150,000 from the FAA every year. Kennett says that money can be rolled over from year to year to go toward bigger projects.

"There are very few projects that cost less than $150,000," he said.

Kennett explained the airport has recently used FAA grant money to upgrade lighting to LED's. He says the lights last longer and are cheaper to operate.

The Darlington County Airport Commission will put together a list of capital improvement needs in November or December.

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