The Beaufort County Airports Board on Thursday declined to consider a proposal from a charter-flight company to provide intrastate air service at the Hilton Head Island Airport. Sea Breeze Airways LLC of Hilton Head wanted to lease airport land and build a 14,000-square-foot maintenance hangar. The service would require the county to spend more than $300,000 to build a connecting taxiway. Airport officials said the county cannot afford such an endeavor. Airport Board members agreed.
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A proposal aimed at speeding the extension of the Hilton Head Island Airport runway by two to three years could cost the county as much as $650,000 -- money expected to be reimbursed by the federal government.
Beaufort County and Hilton Head officials met with Federal Aviation Administration representatives Wednesday to discuss how to put a 20-year master plan into action and extend the 4,300-foot runway to 5,400 feet.
County Councilman Stu Rodman proposed the county begin designing the first phase, a 700-foot extension, while it also works on an environmental assessment and cost-benefit analysis. That would enable the county to solicit construction bids as soon as the FAA approves the two reports and speed the process by two or three years.
However, the FAA won't pay for the design work until it approves the other two reports, said county airports manager Paul Andres during a county Airports Board meeting Thursday.
That means the county would have to pay the cost for design work up front, estimated at $600,000 to $650,000, and seek FAA reimbursement later, Andres said.
It's not clear how much time Rodman's plan would save.
Andres said the environmental assessment and cost-benefit analysis will take 12 to 18 months to complete, and design work is expected to take eight to 10 months. Also, the design might have to be changed if either report uncovers unforeseen concerns.
Rodman, though, says the reward of having a longer runway sooner would outweigh that risk.
"Our commercial service is at risk. By getting the project done two to three years sooner, it will significantly reduce the possibility of losing commercial service, which we've decided is worth millions of dollars to the town, county and citizens," Rodman said. "The FAA would reimburse us. So it's a matter of putting the money up and having it be reimbursed downstream. And we clearly have that money available in the county budget for that."
County Council must approve the proposal before it could advance.
But before the county can begin design work, it needs federal approval of the master plan. The FAA has promised "to do an expeditious review" and issue its approval in the next few months, Andres said.
"They've looked at a lot of it already," he said.
Total cost to extend the runway is estimated at $20 million. As much as 95 percent would be covered by the FAA, with the county and state splitting the rest.