Manassas Journal Messenger | Airport construction taking off

In his office overlooking the airport’s apron, Juan Rivera, Manassas Regional Airport executive director, coolly outlines the airport’s construction and reconstruction plans, phase by phase, project by project, as one would diagram the mechanics of a home run bat swing — as a ceaseless progression finishing in a beautifully tremendous wonder.

“Manassas Regional could really be put on the map as the relieve airport for the D.C. area,” said Rivera, a 12-year veteran of the aviation industry. “It’s just going to take some work.”

The airport is embarking on a possible half decade of construction, culminating in a probable 2007 expansion of the runway.

Hampered by periodic strafing by hostile weather patterns throughout the fall and winter, earth moving has commenced. The $3.8 million overlay and rehabilitation of Taxiway Bravo, which parallels the airport’s main runway, finally got off the ground early this spring.

White trailers now spot the landscape alongside the runway not far where the frame of a new corporate hangar has begun to take shape. Rivera said he foresees three new 12,000-plus-square-feet hangars being erected by the summer of 2004.

Construction crews also should begin work on $8 million reconstruction and rehabilitation of runway 16L/34R before the close of the month, Rivera said Wednesday. Broken up into two phases, the 90-day project will require the relocation of some aircraft to other area airfields. Construction, primarily funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Aviation, should be completed by the beginning of October before the fall’s Freedom Festival.

“We have gotten about all we can out of this pavement,” he added before venturing a guess that every 18 to 20 years it’s necessary to replace airport runways to prevent aircraft from disappearing in the plane-size holes that from time to time develop due to runway wear and tear.

After pausing to make sure his joke was taken as such, Rivera, a former Marine midway through his third year as airport director, somberly explains that no airplane-size holes actually exist. Not on his watch.

And certainly not at Manassas Regional, recently commended by Aviation Department director Charles Macfarlane for its diligence in addressing security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The airport, home to such tenants as Colgan Air, Inc. and INOVA Aircare, unlike many of its peers around the state, is hopping more with business, particularly new corporate traffic, than a novice flier is with first touchdown jitters.

In 2002, with an estimated 139,000 operations, Manassas Regional remained the busiest general aviation airport in the state. The operations figure continues an upward trend in the total number of operations annually consistent over the past five years. During the fiscal year 2001, the airport ranked in the top 50 of U.S. airports based on itinerant general aviation operations.

Through smaller — situated on only 888 acres — than airports at Dinwiddie and Suffolk, 396 aircraft are based at the airfield, a number more than double the total based at Leesburg, the home of the second most aircraft in the state.

“[Manassas Regional] is a critical infrastructure that we need here,” said Lovey Hammel, former chairman of the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce. Hammel maintained the airport is a large draw for businesses, particularly those handling large distribution networks.

However, Jason Grant, communications director for the Prince William County Department of Economic Development, said how critical the facility is to county’s economic growth is debatable because of the lack of heavily airport-dependent businesses presently in the area. Grant did concede though, for a growing number of corporate flyers coming to the county, the airport is a convenience.

“We’re only one tool in the economic toolbox,” Rivera said in acknowledging that the airport’s appeal is inexorably linked to county’s other business-friendly attractions.

“People are going to come to Prince William for the good schools, low taxes and affordable housing,” said Rivera, who was quick to add proximity to an airport as an important determining factor for some ready-to-invest businesses eying perspective localities.

And, according to a Spring 2002 Economic Impact Study conducted by Infrastructure Management Group Inc., an independent advisory firm, the airport has had a positive impact on the local economy, contributing $45.8 million to economies of Manassas and Prince William County during the fiscal year 2002.

The study commissioned by the city factored in both the direct and secondary economic impacts of the airport and further found airport-related business activity resulted in 562 area jobs — 335 of those being through direct employment — and a total of $19.6 million in income.

Flying straight with a balanced operating budget for the fiscal year 2004 and with the goal of becoming the chief relieve airport in the Metro-area, Rivera now looks forward to stepping up to the plate and hitting a home run of sorts.

“This airport has tremendous potential,” Rivera said. “That’s why I was attracted to Manassas. There’s so much potential here.”

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