Local airport completes runway extension, sees record traffic - The Daily Progress: News

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Local airport completes runway extension, sees record traffic

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Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012 5:24 pm | Updated: 5:34 pm, Fri Dec 21, 2012.

An 800-foot runway extension at Charlottesville Albemarle Airport is expected to go in service next week, bringing the nearly five-year project to a close.

The addition brings the length of the airport’s single runway to 6,801 feet, and will add operational and passenger capacity, according to airport officials.

“The added 800 feet is crucial to the success of our current commercial air service, as well as any prospective airlines interested in new destinations,” Bill Pahuta, the airport’s interim executive director, said in a statement. “This will also allow our airlines to utilize all of the available seats and take less restrictions during the humid months.”

Humid summer weather conditions, combined with the shorter runway, limited the maximum weight of aircraft and the number of passengers they could safely carry.

Although the project will not be fully completed until next year, Pahuta said the runway itself would be operational next week.

Airport spokesman Jason Burch said the runway project’s cost is estimated at $43 million. The project required roughly 1.2 million cubic yards of dirt from the airport property.

The airport also has introduced a second security screening line during the morning rush to expedite the movement of passengers in the terminal.

“All four of the airlines at CHO have adjusted their early morning schedules to better connect Charlottesville with more flights at six major hubs,” Pahuta said. “These changes have made the early morning checkpoint wait another high priority for us. With six planes leaving full and within 90 minutes of each other in the early mornings, we found that a single checkpoint just isn’t adequate.”

Each day, Burch said, there are about 300 seats scheduled for departure between 5 and 6:45 a.m.

Pahuta also expressed appreciation to the Transportation Security Administration for its role in getting approval and staffing for a second X-ray machine and screening lane.

From January through November, the airport handled 428,594 passengers. Last year, 406,373 passengers passed through the gates, a record-high at the time.

Randy Burdette, director of the Virginia Department of Aviation, praised the changes and growth at CHO and said the aviation industry is in recovery in 2012.

Through 2016, $16.9 million in capital improvement projects are planned for the Charlottesville airport. The projects on the books with the state include a terminal renovation, replacement of baggage claim equipment, design of a de-icing containment system and more parking.

“What we’re looking to do is improve the passenger experience so that they’ll choose air [travel] when it’s convenient for them,” Burdette said, adding that a challenge for aviation is that no single entity is in control of all the rules.

Burdette acknowledged that another ongoing issue for Central Virginia’s smaller airports is customer leakage to larger hubs such as Richmond and Dulles.

Burch said CHO had an average domestic fare of $205 per passenger in 2012, which was about $10 more than Richmond International Airport and about $20 less than other airports in the area.

Greg Campbell, manager of Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave, said he faces the issue of passenger leakage to larger airports, despite recently securing service with Frontier Airlines. The Denver-based carrier began serving SHD with 138-seat Airbus jet aircraft late last month. Campbell said he expects the airport to log about 25,000 passengers by the end of the year.

SHD’s available flights include service to Orlando, Fla., on Frontier and to Dulles on United. CHO offers flights to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and Atlanta on Delta Air Lines and service to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on American Airlines.

With lots of airport choices in Central Virginia, Campbell said he sees the competition among the region’s smaller regional airports as robust but friendly.

“I think a lot of passengers are starting to realize the benefit of flying local, both Charlottesville and here,” Campbell said. “We’d like to see both airports do well.”

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