Bigger runway, other upgrades sought for Harford airport

The Harford County Airport in Churchville has never been anything fancy – a small administrative building (called the FBO, or "fixed-base operator") with a public computer and donated couches, some basic airplane hangars, a couple of grassy runways and a paved one.

For years, even decades, the owners have wanted to make the Aldino Road facility a little more friendly for modern pilots.

Now Shawn Pyle, president of the Harford County Airport Owners Group, has actually drawn up plans to convert the three runways into one longer runway, replace the old hangars and perhaps modernize the FBO building, which he said floods every time it rains.

Pyle recently met with officials from the Maryland Aviation Administration and the Harford County Office of Economic Development regarding the concept, but has yet to make any formal applications for permits and does not know how much such a project might cost.

"There's no grandiose plans," Pyle said Wednesday, joking the airport would not look anything like BWI and would involve no more than a basic upgrade.

"It's kind of a rehab project for the airport, revitalization for the airport," he said. "It's just not – I don't want to use the word 'unsafe' – but it's not up to any kind of modern standards for an airport."

The airport has been on Aldino Road since 1942, and "we need to do something with the building eventually," Pyle said. "The building is just dated."

"All our hangars here are getting old, dilapidated. It just hasn't been touched in 50 years," he said.

The three runways, which date to the late 1950s, would be turned into one paved runway that meets MAA standards of being at least 3,200 feet long (it is now 2,200 feet) and 75 feet wide instead of 36.

Having one long, north-south runway instead of the three smaller ones would help pilots better navigate the property and would also cut down the airspace by essentially limiting pilots to the left side of the facility.

"If you combine the other runways, you eliminate the need for all these different approaches," Pyle said.

"All the pilots here would like a little bit wider runway," he explained. "Coming here at night is really difficult. It's not the safest place to land at."

Many pilots' insurance will not allow them to land on a runway like the existing one at Harford Airport, Pyle noted.

When the wind kicks up to 25 or 30 miles per hour and the grass is too wet, it can be extremely difficult for pilots to land on the blacktop, he said.

Pyle noted he has "had some guys run off the end [of the runway]," which is "fortunately" just a soybean and sod farm.

He assured that the airport has had no major accidents and is definitely safe, but "we think we have the ability to make it safer and better."

The public airport is one of two such facilities in Harford; the other is in Fallston (Forest Hill's airport is private). As such, the Churchville facility can get, with good weather, 80 to 100 landings per day, he said.

Asked if the improvements would mean larger aircraft could be landing there, Pyle replied: "Yes and no."

"We won't get jet traffic," he said, but the changes could allow for more twin-engine airplanes like Beechcraft Barons and King Airs, which Kevin Hess, vice-president of the group, said the airport used to see in the past.

"It's really planes that we used to service 20 years ago," Hess said.

One "big plus" of the improvements would be that Maryland State Police's new Medevac helicopters can base in Harford County.

Pyle said the police were considering Cecil County and Aberdeen Proving Ground to base the helicopters, but APG has "security issues" and the police's John F. Kennedy Barrack in Perryville is "too foggy because of the river."

"It would be great to have shock trauma in Harford County," he noted.

The upgrades would also give pilots and plane owners a nice alternative to the Fallston airport, which is "getting too populated," Pyle said.

By comparison, the Aldino Road site is still relatively isolated, surrounded by a handful of homes and those soybean fields that occasionally serve as a runway buffer.

"We have the ability, the land here to do it, and Harford County can have a little nicer facility," he said.

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