County airport reopens after $4 million in upgrades

Photos by Samantha Lyles

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

After being shuttered for three months during an ambitious runway improvement project, Darlington County Airport (DCA) held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 18, to mark its official reopening.

DCA manager Barry Kennett told the News & Press that due to age and the regular traffic of heavy aircraft on hot asphalt, the 20- year-old main runway 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 to $5 million.

Construction began in September, and crews milled down between 2 and 7 inches of asphalt and laid a thick pad of concrete along the 5,500-foot-long runway, providing a more durable surface.

This upgrade tripled the runway’s weight capacity, and could lure larger, heavier aircraft in for a local landing – which could mean new economic development for the county.

“Collectively, what happens when we see these projects take place is they ultimately add to the value of your community.

Last year, we did an economic impact (study) of this airport and the whole statewide system of airports. This airport represents $4.5 million annually in economic impact to this community,” said James Stephens, executive director of South Carolina Aeronautics.

Airport Commission chairman Bobby Dempsey said he was thrilled and surprised that the project came in on time. Dempsey added that if the airport could get a new sewer line, that could open up more possibilities for tenants and development.

“This is maybe the only small airport in South Carolina that has a concrete runway. All the big ones have them, but this is just excellent for us,” said Dempsey.

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 noted 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 said the FAA will pay 90 percent, with the other 10 percent split between the state and the county.

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

Author: Rachel Howell

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