Airports keep regional economy flying

Published 1:28 pm Thursday, August 25, 2016

Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, the Friends of the Farmville Airport objected to a proposed increase on the tax rate imposed on airplanes kept at the Farmville Regional Airport. Although the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors ultimately nixed the increase, the protest begged the question of whether or not pilots would save money by moving their planes elsewhere. We offer an answer with a look at the role of airports in the region.

By Jamie C. Ruff

The Farmville Herald

Email newsletter signup

The Farmville Regional Airport in Cumberland County has a special place in the region’s economy.

Airports dotting Southside and Central Virginia may be small, but contribute quality-of-life benefits to their communities through public events, emergency medical operations and law enforcement activities. Officials in Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Nottoway counties all credit their respective airports as marketing tools and of general benefit to their communities.

Farmville does, too.

JAMIE RUFF | HERALD The Farmville Regional Airport, on Wedgewood Drive in southern Cumberland County, services Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College, various corporations and individual pilots.

The Farmville Regional Airport, on Wedgewood Drive in southern Cumberland County, services Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College, various corporations and individual pilots.

The town of Farmville owns and operates Farmville Regional Airport in adjoining Cumberland County. In April, the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors proposed tripling the tax rate on airplanes housed at the airport. The Friends of the Farmville Airport, a group of pilots and supporters, protested the proposal, indicating they would move their planes to other airports if the tax increase went through. The Cumberland board ultimately chose not to increase what The Farmville Herald has learned is the lowest tax rate on airplanes in the region: 50 cents per $100 assessed value.

Buckingham County charges 55 cents per $100 assessed value. Nottoway County charges $1 per $100 assessed value. Tax rates rise steeply from there: Lunenburg County, $2.10; Mecklenburg County, $3.36; Charlotte County, $3.75; and Prince Edward County, $4.50.

Even if Cumberland County had tripled the tax to a $1.50 per $100 assessed value, it would have fallen in the middle of the pack.

“I think we’ve got a nice, small airport,” Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates said. “It’s a great … tool for our area.”

Spates said Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College, officials with Sheetz convenience stores and visitors to Green Front Furniture all use the airport. Bailey’s Cigarettes has a jet at the airport; Buckingham County-based Kyanite Mining Corp. has a hangar.

“It’s going to be very important during the vice presidential debate,” Spates added.

The airport boasts a 4,400-foot runway and handles smaller jets. Twenty-six airplanes are housed there full-time, and the airport is staffed from 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, except for holidays.

According to the town’s website, services include aviation fuel, aircraft parking, flight instruction, courtesy transportation, pilots’ lounge, public telephone, computerized weather, internet access, conference room and restrooms. Pilots are able to buy fuel seven days a week, 24 hours a day with a “pay at the pump” option.

Expenditures for the airport were budgeted this year at $1.7 million, but most funds come from state and federal grants used for upgrades, Spates said. He said the town spends $150,000-$200,000 annually on the airport. Meanwhile, revenues are about $185,000, mostly from fuel sales, Spates said.

Looking to other airports, Angie D. Kellett, director of the Mecklenburg County Office of Economic Development, said an airport is “always something we use from our toolbox to help entice a company if it is something that appeals to them or is a need to their business.”

There, Chase City Municipal Airport has a 3,400-foot runway open to the public. The airport services approximately 40 planes a week. Most of those planes are single-engine.

“The airport obviously has traffic that is mostly local enthusiast,” Kellett said. “They host small events to help educate the community.”

In Nottoway County, figures for the 2015 calendar year show the Crewe Municipal Airport operating at a loss of $6,586 annually, according to a July 5 memo to Crewe Town Council. The airport’s total income for calendar year 2015 was $20,049 — with rent generating $10,800 and fuel sales accounting for $9,249. Its total costs were $26,635, including $13,649 for fuel costs, an estimated $9,000 for grass cutting, $2,494 for electricity and $1,492 for telephone.

Twelve of the Crewe airport’s 11 hangers are rented. Monthly hangar fees range from $50 to $100.

Crewe’s 3,300-foot runway is in bad need of repair, and the least expensive option is crack fill and resurfacing, the memo said.

John Prosise, Nottoway’s assistant county administrator and economic development contact, said the county does not operate the Crewe Airport, but “does highlight the airport as an economic development asset when marketing itself.” Prosise said the airport “is an asset for new business locations and convenient for local flyers.”

Spates said Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport is the only one in the area comparable to Farmville’s. The airport has a 5,000-foot runway with complete services.

During 2015, the Mecklenburg-Brunswick Airport suffered a net operating loss of $262,907, according to a comprehensive annual financial report for fiscal years ending June 2014 and 2015.

Ken Currin, with the Mecklenburg Airport Commission, said the group went to its three top contributors and asked for an increase, due mainly in part to a $7 million runway rehabilitation.

“With fuel sales down, we have been losing money each year for a while now,” Currin said. “We also lost two corporate aircraft, which means we lost a lot of fuel sales and loss of hangar rental.”

Lunenburg County’s airport has a 3,000-foot runway and, like the others, is used for recreational and business activities. The airport is a partner to tourism and home to No Limits Skydiving, “so it is important that we retain business and keep our airport operational,” County Administrator Tracy Gee said.

Copies of its budget for the last five years show it has failed to show a profit. The 2016 budget shows total fund revenues of $17,674 and total fund expenses of $25,672, prompting a $10,110 transfer from the general fund.

It is similar in size to other airports, and its fuel prices are competitive, Gee said. It does not have a full-time staff person, but there is someone on-call.