$4 million project broadens county airport’s horizons

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

Planned improvements to the Darlington County Airport (DCA) could lure larger, heavier aircraft in for a local landing.

Starting this September, a project to upgrade the field’s main runway will triple its current weight capacity, opening up options for current tenants and enhancing the airport’s appeal to new ones.

“We applied for a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to come in and basically do an overlay on our runway,” says airport manager Barry Kennett. “The asphalt on the runway is over 20 years old, and generally that’s about the lifespan for asphalt surfaces.”

Kennett says that due to age and the regular traffic of heavy aircraft on hot asphalt, the runway has developed ruts. Engineers recommended an overlay to repair the surface, and DCA applied for a federal grant to help cover the estimated cost of $4 million- $5 million. The project will mill down between 2 and 7 inches of asphalt and lay a thick pad of concrete along the 5,500-foot-long runway, providing a more durable and hardy surface.

“That’s going to triple our weight-bearing capability,” Kennett says.

He explains that a runway’s weight-bearing capacity can be expressed as a PCN (Pavement Classification Number) of 1 to 100, which pilots use to gauge whether a surface can safely support their aircraft. With these planned improvements, DCA’s runway could increase from its current PCN of 6 all the way up to an 18. Structural tests once work is completed will finalize that rating, but Kennett says the estimate is very encouraging.

Originally built in 1943 by the U.S. Army Air Force, Darlington County Airport’s runway is typical for a general aviation airport used mainly by small passenger aircraft and single engine planes. Kennett notes that the new runway will allow visitors and airport tenants like Sonoco to land heavier aircraft at DCA and feel confident that the surface is sturdy and pristine.

“That will be nice down the line, so we can try to get more corporate or business aircraft to come here. Not only that, but since concrete lasts longer than asphalt, we shouldn’t have to worry about this runway for another 25 years,” Kennett says.

As a general aviation airport, DCA receives a federal entitlement of $150,000 each year. For any additional maintenance projects or upgrades, airports must submit detailed grant proposals to the FAA. DCA requested runway upgrade money in 2018 when President Donald Trump’s administration set aside $1 billion for airport improvements, but they were not selected until the following year’s grant cycle.

The FAA grant award covers just over $4 million for project costs. Kennett says the FAA will pay 90 percent, with the other 10 percent split between the state and the county.

When second reading of Ordinance No. 19-20 came before Darlington County Council at a special meeting on Aug. 26, that body voted unanimously to allocate necessary monies to the airport, supplementing FAA grant funds so the project can proceed. Kennett says construction should begin by the end of September and will require the airport to halt most operations for about 90 days.

The Darlington County Airport is at 313 G. Graham Segars Parkway in Darlington. For more information, call 843-393-9928.

Author: Rachel Howell

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