Businesses support runway expansion in Westminster

A safer landing area and increased usage are a couple of the benefits businesses say would occur if the runway at the Carroll County Regional Airport in Westminster is expanded as planned.

In April 2013, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted to reverse an earlier decision and expand the runway and move it northwest of the current one. Businesses currently located at the airport say there are a lot of positives with the decision.

Jeremy Etzhorn, owner of Dream Flight School, said a larger runway would bring more businesses and more airplanes to the regional airport. Those that would benefit the most from an expanded runway are companies and individuals who need a place to land their larger planes in Westminster, he said.

"There's a couple larger companies that do have some larger planes that were hoping to come here and move their businesses here with the expansion," Etzhorn said.

An expansion project would help the growing local aviation industry, he said. In the two and a half years since Dream Flight School opened, Etzhorn said he has had to buy four more planes to support the amount of people signing up for lessons.

"Every year we see a considerable increased growth," Etzhorn said. "We're actually moving to a larger building here at the airport within the next month."

Though his small two- and four-seat planes can already take off and land on the current runway, Etzhorn said his company may benefit from more people visiting the airport.

The board's decision to reaffirm its 2007 Airport Master Plan, which included expanding and relocating the runway, is a very good one, according to Rick Hoffmann, a senior vice president with The Surdex Corporation, a company specializing in high-resolution aerial photography.

"It's going to have the opportunity to attract more business, businesses with higher-end aircraft," Hoffmann said. "When you bring in more aircraft, you bring in more people, you bring in more opportunities for businesses to incubate."

Currently, executives from numerous companies, including Jos. A. Bank and Utz Quality Foods, use the airport. That sort of air traffic could increase if the runway is expanded to allow for larger private planes, Hoffmann said.

Private jet traffic would most likely increase if the runway is expanded, according to Dave Conover, vice president of Skytech Inc., which manages the airport. That's because a longer runway would allow private jets to hold more people and carry more fuel when arriving at and leaving from the airport.

Conover said jet and charter companies look at the dimensions of an airport to figure out if it will handle the aircraft. The airport has lost customers, Conover said, because jets are not able to land and/or takeoff from Westminster in certain weather conditions or with certain amounts of weight.

"You can't fill the seats and fill the fuel on most airplanes," Conover said. "They may say, 'Yeah, we can get in there but we can't put the six or eight people in and put enough fuel in to make the trip to the Midwest.'"

Recently, Conover said, a company that regularly uses the airport had to send its passengers to the Harrisburg International Airport because its charter plane couldn't take off from Westminster. The airport's current runway is good for private jet traffic when conditions are perfect, but, Conover said, conditions are rarely perfect.

If a company can fly out of the Westminster airport five times out of 10 because the runway isn't long enough to support its load or the weather conditions don't allow for it, then it will move its flying operations to another airport, such as the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport or Harrisburg, Conover said.

"They look at the big picture," Conover said.

Surdex is actually expected to be leaving its spot at the airport because of the board's initial decision in 2012 not to expand the runway. Hoffmann said the company wanted to grow its infrastructure at the airport, but it was contingent on an increased runway size. The company cannot take off from the airport with a full tank of fuel, forcing it to fill up its tanks at another airport before continuing its work, he said.

When the board got around to reversing its decision in April 2013, Surdex was already in the process of finding another home, Hoffmann said.

On top of attracting more businesses to the airport, Etzhorn said a larger runway would increase safety. That's because a larger runway would mean pilots would have more space to land in an emergency, he said.

"If there was some type of engine malfunction or issue right after takeoff, [a longer runway] definitely does increase the likelihood that you can make it back down onto the runway," Etzhorn said. "If the width of the runway expands, that's going to help our students being able to land and stay on the runway if there's any issues."

Hoffmann said the expansion project called for a precision approach, which gives planes the ability to land safely in Westminster in bad weather conditions. Now, planes are diverted to other airports in rough weather situations, Hoffmann said.

A larger runway gives planes more space to stop and land, Hoffmann said.

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