Regional airport authority still possible

Published 1:23 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FRANKLIN–Discussions about establishing a regional authority to operate Franklin’s airport started over a year ago and haven’t progressed much since then, but local officials say the idea is still on the table.

“It is still one of the issues that we intend to work on,” said Franklin City Manager June Fleming. “We’ve had a lot on our plates.”

Franklin Municipal-John Beverly Rose Airport was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and housed hundreds of Navy planes during World War II. After the war, the Navy deeded the airport to Franklin, and the city has owned and operated it since.

However, last year, local leaders from Franklin and Isle of Wight County began preliminary discussions to establish a regional airport authority that could develop the land around the airport, or use the airport to attract other businesses. Southampton County officials were also approached with the idea.

Sharing the operating costs for the airport is one of the reasons the idea is so attractive to the city, which now operates the airport at a loss.

“It would not be as costly for either entity if we do it together,” Fleming said.

Considering tight local budgets and expected cuts from the state, local leaders say that regional thinking will help save money and spur economic development. Isle of Wight Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw said that an airport authority is “one of many issues that we’re looking at on a regional basis.”

He also pointed to the fact that two major rail lines, with access to Franklin, Southampton County and Suffolk, and the Franklin airport are all located in southern Isle of Wight.

“Right off the bat you can look at the economic benefits,” he said. “These are huge incentives for economic development.”

A regional meeting was scheduled for this month, but there were scheduling conflicts caused it to be postponed. Bradshaw said he, and the other elected officials, are waiting to hear from their staffs before making any decisions about the authority.

Southampton County Administrator Michael Johnson said that he remembers the prospect being briefly discussed in a meeting a couple of years ago, but he hasn’t been involved in any serious discussions recently.

The airport’s runway was recently received a $2 million rehabilitation courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Officials agree the airport is invaluable when it comes to marketing and growing the region’s economy.

“An airport is an asset to any area looking to create economic development,” Fleming said.