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The $24.2 million in suggested renovations to the airport on Lady's Island is no mere wish list, the Beaufort County airports director told the Airports Board on Thursday.
"I don't want to leave anybody with the impression that the airport board, or the county commission or the town (is) looking at this as an expansion purely for expansion," Paul Andres said. "What we're doing is to bring it into compliance."
The Beaufort County Airport currently does not meet all Federal Aviation Administration recommendations for planes operating at the Beaufort County Airport, he said.
The runway is too short to handle the largest plane that regularly uses the facility -- a Beech King Air twin engine -- according to the proposed master plan update. Pilots have to carry fewer passengers, or less gas and cargo to safely use the runway.
An updated draft of the plan recommends another 345 feet of runway-safety areas. The runway itself needs another 966 feet, for a total length of 4,400 feet.
FAA standards aside, northern Beaufort County needs the expansion to meet the increasing needs of a growing population, Airport Board member Pete Buchanan said. He cited the Northern Beaufort County Regional Plan's estimated 53-percent population growth over the next 20 years. The proposed master plan for the airport also covers a 20-year period.
"That is why I think it's viable to say we need it a little bigger," he said. "The county is going to grow, and those customers we have now are going to need to grow."
The consultants who created the master plan update also included data on income and employment as well as local and national aviation trends.
Buchanan said the airport expansion would benefit business, tourism, and public health and safety.
Health and safety benefits include accommodations for the county's mosquito-spraying plane and flying medical personnel in to assist at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, he said. Should a hurricane wipe out bridges to the sea islands near Beaufort, supplies could be flown to the airport and distributed by helicopter, he added.
Business meetings, consultant work, cargo deliveries, real estate development and Marine Corps recruiting all benefit from access to a local airport, Buchanan said, citing his experience on the Airports Board and at the airport itself.
Even a golf trip by someone flying into the airport can mean hundreds of dollars in tourist revenue, he said, once golf fees, tips, food and beverage and possibly an overnight stay are factored in.
Two residents of property near the airport suggested the county explore a larger, regional airport elsewhere.
"I think there's a better way for everyone to get what they want without undermining the quality of life," Bruce Wyles said.
Jim Brown asked officials to survey neighbors about what they want. He acknowledged the potential economic benefits of a larger airport, but said some people move to Beaufort because they want a slower pace of life. They move to Atlanta if they want a large airport, he said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufort.