The 5,000-foot runway at the Stafford Regional Airport is about to get longer.
Beginning in fall 2020, the airport’s runway will be extended another 1,000 feet, a move officials hope will make Stafford more popular with business, military and recreational flyers.
Airport manager Edward Wallis said the $10 million project is designed to give corporate jets that have a 6,000-foot minimum runway requirement the ability to land safely.
“It’s not about bigger aircraft; it’s about allowing aircraft that currently use our airport to depart safely, fully loaded with passengers and fuel,” Wallis said. “A longer runway will increase traffic because pilots who would ordinarily use Dulles or some other airport due to their weight will have a longer, safer runway to depart from."
Making the airport safer for corporate jets could make Stafford a more desirable place for businesses to locate, both Wallis and airport authority Chairman Charles "Lindy" Kirkland said.
“As a result of a longer runway, we’re going to see a lot more corporate flights," Kirkland said. "We’ll be more compliant and attractive to those businesses wanting to come here.”
Wallis added, “The longer the runway is, the cheaper it is for pilot to insure their aircraft. Insurance is cheaper when you’re operating off a longer runway.”
Business professionals who fly to the region find Stafford more convenient than Washington’s National Airport or Dulles International Airport.
“Business aviation allows CEOs to be more productive and be where they have to be and not waste time,” said Wallis. “The airplane and their staff are waiting for them here when they’re ready to go home; they’re not waiting on the aircraft.”
Wallis cited a Virginia Beach contractor with clients at Quantico who uses the airport frequently. “They fly in by 9 a.m., do business at Quantico and they’re gone by 1 p.m.,” he said.
The airport also has frequent military dignitaries arriving and departing, as well as celebrities who enjoy the convenience and privacy of the smaller airport in a more remote location.
“We’ve had Donald Trump, Ross Perot, Warren and Doris Buffett, Jack Nicklaus, Joe Gibbs, Tony Stewart and Hank Williams Jr.,” said Wallis. “There are no crowds waiting to mob them here.”
In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration approved a master plan update that supported a runway extension in Stafford. The extension was approved last year after the completion of an in-depth environmental review and assessment.
During the two-year runway extension project, the airport will continue operations, but with only 4,500 feet of runway available, Wallis said.
The Federal Aviation Administration will pay 90 percent of the cost of the expansion, the state will pay 8 percent, and the airport authority pays 2 percent.
Fredericksburg, Prince William and Stafford counties make up the airport authority and provide a $150,000 total subsidy each year that is divided according to the number of members appointed from each locality. Stafford has four members and pays the most—close to $86,000 a year. Prince William County has two members and Fredericksburg has one.
A consultant hired by the Virginia Department of Aviation in 2016 to study the economic benefits from the 66 regional airports in the state reported that Stafford’s had an total economic impact of $23.3 million annually, with 203 jobs created and a payroll of $7.9 million.
According to the report, those economic benefits are created by businesses, tenants, visitors and in–state companies who travel through those airports, as well as the in–state companies who rely on their airports to support their businesses.
“This airport is an economic engine,” Wallis said.