600-foot runway extension sought for new jet fleet

News that jets will eventually fly into the Salisbury airport, replacing the props now used there, could mean a 600-foot extension for one of the two runways.

The props will be replaced at a rate of about one per month, and the airport could have nothing but jets by 2020.

Bob Bryant, general manager of the Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Regional Airport, told the Salisbury Independent it’s too soon to know for sure what changes will have to be made at the airport.

“We are still waiting for information from Piedmont Airline regarding aircraft take-off performance requirements. It’s all based upon the route that the aircraft will be flying from Salisbury to determine whether or not a runway extension is necessary,” Bryant said.

The airport has two runways, with the primary one being 6,400 feet long.

At a recent Wicomico County Council meeting, County Administrator Wayne Strausburg told council members it will likely have to be extended to 7,000 feet.

If county officials can justify the extension to the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA will pay 95 percent of the cost. He said he doesn’t yet know the amount.

Strausburg said county officials regularly meet with Piedmont President & CEO Lyle Hogg; the company is headquartered in Salisbury.

Hogg told them a jet, full of fuel and with all passenger seats filled, could need 7,000 feet to get into the air.

The airport’s second runway is 5,000 feet long, but Bryant said the airport only needs one runway to accommodate jets.

“He really wants the fleet completely turned over to jets by 2020. We therefore have to get ourselves in front of the FAA and essentially justify the need to extend the runway,” Strausburg said.

Replying to a question from the County Council, he explained a 7,000-foot runway wasn’t built last year, while renovation work was being done, because the length couldn’t be justified to the FAA. There is justification now that jets are  coming.

Strausburg said the county has to meet a May 2017 deadline.

Some people have wondered how presidential candidate Donald Trump’s jet landed at, and took off from, the airport, when Trump campaigned here in the spring.

Strausburg said Trump’s jet is a 757, and more efficient than the smaller, local jets will be.

The airport has already flown the Allegiant jet into the local airport, he said.

Bryant said airport officials are working with Piedmont “to determine what their plans are and how that relates to the current infrastructure.’

“We’re excited about the jets coming,” he said.

“It’s great news for Piedmont Airlines. Over the last decade, man, it was a roller coaster of emotions on my part wondering if U.S. Airways was going to survive, if the merger between U.S. Air and American was actually going to happen, if Piedmont was going to play a role in the new American airlines,” he said.

American Airlines owns Piedmont.

County Executive Bob Culver called Piedmont’s announcement “very positive news for Wicomico County and our airport.”

“The executive, airport management and the airport commission chairman along with David Ryan from SWED (Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development) have been meeting regularly to ensure that we do everything in our power to promote the airline’s strategic plans,” Culver said.

Jackie Jennings, who handles public relations for Piedmont, said the props, called Dash 8s, will be retired at a rate of one per month.

All Piedmont jets will operate out of the American Airlines Philadelphia hub. More jets won’t mean more jobs for Salisbury, at least not right away. The training department in Charlotte is being strengthened, but not locally, she said.

Some 300 customer service jobs were added in Charlotte this year and a new maintenance base opened in Richmond.

Replacing props with jets “is great for Piedmont,” Jennings said.

“We are one of the few regional airlines that is actually growing. So many people are seeing cuts in aircraft, cuts in service and we just continue to grow, so we’re very excited,” she said.

“We know passengers prefer the jet and we’re happy to provide that service for American and for our passengers. We love our Dashes. Our Dashes are great. But passengers prefer jets,” Jennings said.

By comparison, turbo props have propellers and jets have faster jet engines.

“We will be flying jets out of Philadelphia to places we never did before. We’re adding routes. Our employees very excited. This is a huge deal,” Jennings said.

“This is a vote of confidence from American and a goal we worked very hard to achieve,” Hogg stated in a news release.

“American had previously committed 20 jets to Piedmont and we are pleased that our parent company will now continue to increase the number. The expanding fleet of jets puts Piedmont on an exciting path to the future, and that will lead to even more opportunities,” he stated.

Piedmont employs more than 7,000 aviation professionals across the country and operates a fleet of 37 Bombardier DHC-8 turbo prop aircraft on nearly 300 flights per day to 53 cities. It recently opened a Philadelphia base to accommodate its expanding fleet of Embraer 145 regional jets. The ground handling team can be found in 80 airports across the United States, according to the news release.

Piedmont began operating the E145 regional jet in February, and has received seven jets so far.

“We will greatly expand our operations in Philadelphia, including placing more new crew members there,” Hogg said.

“The Dash has served us well for years but we know that passengers prefer the regional jets and we want to provide the best service we can for American and for our customers,” Hogg said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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