Airport eyes runway extension

Published 4:16 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

With tourism being tossed around as an economic force for the City of Elizabethton and Carter County, one entity is looking to continue its goal of assisting with the matter.
The Elizabethton Municipal Airport has been the centerpiece of growth within the community and is continually eyeing improving their operation after receiving the Most Improved Airport accolade for 2016 by the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission.
Keeping up with the trend of growth, Airport Manager Dan Cogan said runway extension is on the horizon. The current runway is 4,600 feet, and the extension will bump the runway out an additional 400 feet.
“We’re lengthening it to 5,000 feet,” Cogan told the Elizabethton Star Monday. “In preparation for that, we received grant money for land acquisition, and we’ve been able to improve the main terminal ramp.”
Cogan added work on the extension is expected to start “very soon,” with the project already being sent out for bid.
Work is expected also to get underway where 12 properties were purchased on the east end of the airport. The bid for demolition is also supposed to be sent out soon, which will include the demolish of the structures and removing power lines.
“The buildings will be demolished soon,” Cogan said. “It will be concurrent with the extension.”
The manager added the airport is “done buying properties” and that the extension of the runway will be used to take in the increased traffic absorbed by the facility.
“We’re not going to be taking in 747s all the time, that’s not the case,” Cogan said. “We’re going to be serving the same amount of traffic, but this allows us a bigger safety margin for vehicles and allows heavier loads to take off.”
Improvements at the airport have been facilitated with grant funding coming through the Tennessee Department of Transportation – Aeronautics Division.
“It’s phenomenally important,” Cogan said about the grant funding. “TDOT – Aeronautics is the licensing authority for airports in Tennessee. With their help, there’s federal and state money involved; this airport has received just shy of $10 million since 2009.
“That allows us to have expansion and growth without local people not having to pay taxes,” he continued. “If anything the goal is to have the money get pumped back into the community. I can’t tell you the amount of money that’s used for these projects using local vendors and local businesses.”
Over the past decade, the airport has seen traffic increase due to the amount of increased popularity for tourist attractions and businesses in the Tri-Cities. The airport has 56 based aircraft on site while seeing roughly 10 to 15 percent increase in fuel sales each year.
“We’ve had an increase in all types of business,” Cogan said. “More local, Tri-Cities-own airplanes are here. We’ve brought in WINGS air rescue, a helicopter that goes seven days a week. We’ve seen an increase due to mountain tourism, hiking and from corporate customers. One example, A.Y. McDonald has a business in the industrial park, and we have people that fly into the airport from there.”
With tourism ideas being tossed around, the airport often plays an important factor in the matter.
“We are a very important link in the tourism chain, one that’s often forgotten,” Cogan said. “A lot of times, the first impressions visitors get from Elizabethton and Carter County is stepping off a plane, onto the ramp. My guys are goodwill ambassadors for the city. Their total experience in the mountains starts here. If we don’t do our job well, it doesn’t matter how great their time was; they may not come back just because of that first impression.”
The importance of aviation is being recognized at a statewide level, recently being noted by the government’s support of the Aerospace Project at the Tri-Cities Airport. The Elizabethton Airport also works alongside the Elizabethton and Carter County school systems to provide aviation opportunities to students. Seventy percent of the workforce at the facility often come from students that participate in the programs.
“It’s a great honor that the city and the state recognize the importance of aviation and airports,” Cogan said. “There are studies that show that cities with airports have much greater growth than communities without airports. When you just look at the Tri-Cities, we’re really the only city that has an airport.”
Cogan added that improvements at the facility will always be looked at for the future.
“There’s always plans to improve and grow,” Cogan said. “I’d like to do more to enhance security; our fuel storage needs an upgrade, the terminal can always use improvements. There may be grant money available for that. No matter who you are, there’s always work to be done.”
For more information on the airport, visit or call (423) 543-2801.

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