Lexington County Council wants to spend $150,000 to study whether to upgrade the Pelion airport into a facility capable of landing small corporate jets.
If the improvements are made, they will add $4.4 million to the county's $1.4 million investment in the airport it bought in 2004.
County Council has authorized the study by LPA Group, a Columbia airport planning and engineering firm that guided the county through recent upgrades at the site, such as new runway lights and some cosmetic improvements.
The study is hinged to a five-year spending plan the county must approve in order to continue qualifying for federal airport grants. Federal funds have paid for about 85 percent of improvements made so far, according to county figures.
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Councilman John Carrigg, who chairs council's airport committee, said the study will clarify whether to spend money to convert the airport from one that serves turbo-prop planes to a more sophisticated operation for small corporate jets.
The study will help council decide "what we want the airport to be when it grows up," Carrigg said.
Pelion airport is designated an A-1 facility by the Federal Aviation Administration. To handle corporate jets, it would have to become a B-2 airport.
"Do we really want to do these upgrades ... or do we want to stick where we are?" Carrigg asked. "Should we be concentrating on being a great A-1 airport?"
The study is intended to help answer those questions. It has not yet begun, said LPA executive Ken Holt. His firm is in the preliminary stages of the study and he would not estimate a start or end date.
County administrator Katherine Hubbard said studies generally take six months to a year.
The rural airport is about 16 miles south of downtown Lexington and about the same distance from Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Should the county decide to make the airport into a corporate jet facility, it would require significant changes and expense. To qualify for further federal funding, County Council earlier this month projected a five-year spending plan:
- 2010: $606,000 to buy 40 acres to enlarge the safety zone on the southern end of the runway and realign 500 feet of the taxiway
- 2011: $567,000 to design and build a 10-plane hangar and change the taxi lane to accommodate corporate jets
- 2012: $147,000 for the design to strengthen and widen the runway to 75 feet from 60 feet
- 2013: $2,412,000 to complete the strengthening and widening
- 2014: $297,000 to study an extension of the 1,200-foot runway and purchase land for it
- 2015: $225,000 for an environmental study and design of the runway extension
The cost projections total $4.4 million but do not include the expense of the runway extension. Carrigg said the county is looking at an all-or-nothing decision.
"There is no point in spending hundreds of thousands of dollars ... unless we're going to go all the way with it," he said.
The airport is a long way from becoming profitable for the county. County officials bought the airport in 2004 from the town of Pelion for $225,500. Federal and state grants have paid for nearly all the $1.2 million in improvements made since.
The county makes money for its general fund from rent it charges for hangar space and fuel it sells at the airport, Hubbard said.
Altogether, the county has made about $210,000, according to figures she supplied.
Fuel sales have totaled $94,500 since fiscal 2006-07, reaching their peak in fiscal 2008-09 when the county received about $42,300, the figures show.
Rental income has grown from about $8,100 in fiscal year 2004-05 to $25,600 in 2008-09.