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HILLSVILLE — Rarely has dirt seemed such a commodity for an airport, but Twin County Airport officials see progress on the horizon with each cubic yard moved.
Unavoidable dust has rolled into the air during the recent heatwave as Sowers Construction pushes and scoops up 135,000 cubic yards of earth to fill holes in the federally mandated runway safe project.
The Federal Aviation Administration required the work to smooth out at least a 15-foot-wide patch of ground all the way around the runway, but the feds paid for most of the work, too.
The facility will benefit by going up in federal airport classifications, which Manager Dave Ritter says could result in more support and attention from the U.S. government, as well.
"After we get the runway safe area done, the FAA will consider us a safe airport and they'll do more for us," he said, driving his pickup truck by the considerable amount of activity with heavy equipment around the facility.
Not only are loaders scraping down the hill on the southeast side of the tarmac and taking it to fill in a depression on the west side of the runway, but the first phase of fencing off the perimeter of entire airport also has started and is proceeding rapidly.
When it's completed after two more phases, the airport will have gates that can be controlled and monitored from inside the manager's office.
Ritter has lots of engineering drawings sitting in his office showing specifications for the runway safe project.
It's a pretty involved process, as shown by the riprap section Sowers built on the hillside to handle water runoff even as the area is coming gradually down with each pass of the bulldozers. Ritter said the workers dismantle the riprap as it's not needed any longer with the earthwork.
Construction company employees are also putting in new drainage systems next to the runway, where they're filling in.
The goal of the runway safe area is to give a plane a chance to come to a stop safely, should it have some kind of mishap at the airport.
With that in mind, the plans call for workers to create the flat spot and then turn the steep embankments into more of a gradual slope.
This will also help the airport workers get a mower on the hillside and maintain it, Ritter said.
Weather permitting, the project should wrap up in October, he said, estimating the workers have taken down half the hill. The work is proceeding on schedule.
The runway safe area should lead to more activity at the airport, Ritter expects. Besides the possibility of more planes coming in, the airport will have another flat space it can use, and maybe to build T-hangars on to rent out for aircraft storage.
The safety project also had to be done before aviation officials would consider allowing other improvements, like extending the length of the runway, Ritter said. "Like I say, it's just a chance to do more here at the airport with the FAA funds."
For the runway safe project alone, the airport received congressional appropriations totaling a half-million dollars and another $497,500 from the FAA.
About the airport classification change, Ritter, who had previously maintained jet aircraft in the military, compared it to an increase in an officer's rank.
With rank comes privileges, he said. "I want us to be a general before I leave here."