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Airport reopens after renovations

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Kim Thayer checks the jet fuel Thursday afternoon before flying out of the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport now is quite a smooth place to land aircraft.

The aviation center, located off N.C. 97 between the two cities, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar restoration and expansion. The work on the runway, the apron and part of the taxiway recently were completed.

“This is the front door to the community,” Airport Managing Director Dion Viventi told the Telegram. “And having a respectable and attractive terminal area that includes a nice runway and taxiway and apron system, with state-of-the-art fueling, is very important.”

The airport, which dates back about half a century, was closed for slightly more than a few months before reopening on Aug. 5.

Viventi spoke of having driven on the restored runway multiple times in each direction.

“And there isn’t even a ripple, a single ripple in the entire pavement section of it,” Viventi said. “It’s exceptionally outstanding.”

The work was done by Cleveland, Ohio-area-based Allega Companies.

Viventi is an engineer by trade and a commercial instrument-rated pilot who first became interested in aviation after he began working for the state Department of Transportation in the early 2000s.

Viventi told the Telegram he is quite critical and picky as an engineer, has dealt with runway pavement for a while and has seen good and bad outcomes of paving projects.

“And this is the best one I’ve seen in my entire career,” he said.

Viventi was the director of Elizabeth City Regional Airport before coming to Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional.

He said the goal is to increase operational statistics at Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional.

“We’re currently at about 30,000 ops a year — and we’re looking to double or triple that,” he said.

The airport already is a busy place for business travelers.

Viventi is quick to name corporations that have operations in the area and whose executives enter and exit jets — Firestone, BB&T, Pfizer, Merck, Corning, Triangle Tire, Cummins, CSX and Clayton Homes.

The airport also is a less-than-20-minute drive from Clayton Homes’ production facility in Nashville.

“They’d rather come in here than Raleigh and be engaged in all of that air traffic and vehicle traffic,” he said.

Viventi also noted clients do not have to face Transportation Safety Administration baggage checks and pilots will not be slowed by having to deal with a large airport control tower.

As for the rest of the project, he said work on the taxiways, the perimeter road and drainage will be complete before October.

He said remediation of the old fuel storage area is in progress and that a new fuel farm and a self-service fueling station are being put in place.

“That should be done by December,” he said.

Viventi said a notice to proceed was issued to construct new T hangars, which will enable the airport to have cluster units for storing aircraft.

“That should be done by February,” he said.

One who is particularly pleased with the progress of the project is Garry Hodges, a local photographer who also is an aviator.

Hodges is Rocky Mount’s representative on and vice chairman of the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport Authority.

Hodges told the Telegram of his single-propeller airplane temporarily being in the Kenly area at a friend’s hangar space, with a grass landing strip, while the airport was closed.

Of the experience of first touching down on the airport’s renovated runway, he said, “Oh, it was like landing on glass. It was just smooth as silk — and really looking good.

“We got our money’s worth,” he said.

Hodges particularly emphasized the airport being only a few miles from Interstate 95 and a CSX railroad line and is quick to speak about what he sees as the airport’s future.

“If I had a crystal ball, I would say that we would have large tenants on the opposite side of the runway from Highway 97, in distribution,” he said. “I see us having a second parallel taxiway that would be serving the tenants on the other side. If I had a crystal ball, I would see a railroad spur out of the south side of Sharpsburg off the CSX line running into an industrial park back there.”

The Telegram in January reported that a grant package of more than $14 million in federal, state and local funding was going to help restore the runway area.

Viventi also told the newspaper at the time of the state awarding a $2.1 million grant for the T hangars and of the state providing 90 percent of $300,000 for the fuel system project.

Nash County board Chairman Robbie Davis told the Telegram, “Certainly, the update at the airport is a great thing, simply because we were able to get funding for most of it through grants.

“The local partners had to match it by 10 percent, but we’re spending about $16 million out there,” Davis said. “And certainly, we hope to get more airplanes out there, but it’s more to protect the investment we’ve got, have already made, than anything else.”

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