Changes to Grand Strand Regional Airport getting off the ground

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comSeptember 27, 2013 

North Myrtle Beach Aviation, or Grand Strand Regional Airport, may be getting a flight line facelift after it was awarded a Federal Aviation Administration grant on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. The airport is located off U.S. 17 and 33rd Avenue South in North Myrtle Beach. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com

JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

— Pilot Greg Duckworth has seen subtle changes to the Grand Strand Regional Airport recently – a sign Horry County has now placed its hands in the operation.

“The county has gone through and cleaned the hangars,” said Duckworth, also a North Myrtle Beach City Councilman. “It’s still kind of early.”

Early, but the gears are in motion to help one of the state’s busiest general aviation airports improve and maybe even change its name to reflect the city it is located in.

The airport was built during World War II by the Air Force, and was first known as the “Wampee Flight Strip.” It was closed after World War II and turned over for local government use by the War Assets Administration, according to Pat Dowling, spokesman for North Myrtle Beach.

Aviation company Ramp 66 ran the 427-acre airport since 1978. Earlier this year, the county signed off on a plan to buy back the last seven years of the lease on the airport and took back management. Money used to buy out the contract came from $2 million the airport received from a sale of land. The move came on the heels of Ramp 66 not being able to find a private buyer. So, the county stepped in and used existing fuel and hangar contracts to obtain lower costs with the Grand Strand Airport. It also plans to see reduced liability insurance offered to governments by the state.

The county expects a $270,000 boost in revenue annually as it completes the take over.

Aside from the cleaning of hangar floors, the county has acquired, through lease, two newer model fuel trucks to meet the service needs and expectations of the customers, said Kirk Lovell, spokesman for the county’s Department of Airports. Lovell said the county has repaired all aircraft tow motors to ensure they meet safe operating guidelines.

He said the North Ramp Apron reconstruction project will kick off Tuesday.

Other improvements include the installation of LEED lighting on the hangars to enhance safety and security, the cleaning of interiors of fixed-base operator terminal and all buildings under county control, an upgrade of telecommunications systems to fiber optic enhancing operational capabilities in case of an emergency, and a new aircraft ground power unit on order for mid-October delivery.

The county has also made an effort to create a better visiting environment for pilots and their guests, including providing free bottled water, coffee and tea; placing Adirondack chairs around the ramp side for visitor and customer entertainment and replacing the putting green.

Dowling said the airport is of great importance to the area and seeing improvements is gratifying.

“It is important to locals on a number of levels,” he said. “Quite a few North Myrtle Beach area residents and property owners own and/or lease planes and use the airport to fly to and from business and vacation destinations. Some who own second homes here also use the airport. It is very useful to a segment of visitors and out-of-area business people who use it to come in and out of the area.”

As for the potential name change of the airport, Dowling said it would boost pride.

“From the point of view of community pride, it would be nice to have the airport named after the city where it is located,” Dowling said. “That identification could also only add to the attractiveness of visiting, residing in or doing business in North Myrtle Beach.”

Duckworth said the name change doesn’t matter much to him, but it’s the matter of keeping the airport afloat.

“It’s a very convenient airport,” Duckworth said. “I’m looking forward to all the improvements the county plans for it.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

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