I took my first ride in a small airplane years ago as part of a skydiving project in a nearby county. No, I was not diving. I was just observing for the written word. But my heart was dropping as fast as the diver himself before he pulled the chute strings. There were no seats in that little plane so I sat on the floor. There was no door, either. Remember: someone was jumping out. And as I looked down, there were small holes in the floor of the plane where I was sitting.
It’s a somewhat scary memory now, just as a later ride in a hot air balloon was, where we barely made it over the deep, deep Martin Marietta Quarry at Woodleaf. We landed safely in a nearby field, and I climbed out and sat on the ground to steady my shaky legs. Even later, I had the good sense to refuse a stunt plane ride with former Rowan County Airport Director, Lindsay Hess. Safely grounded, I watched him dipping into vertical Figure 8’s in his little plane. Some of you will remember that he did stunt flying for his hometown for the Faith 4th of July Festival. The rest of my flying has been less eventful – bigger planes with doors and floors and a view of the clouds. I am fully grounded.
Growing Rowan County
All these “air” memories surfaced as I was thinking about the importance of the local airport in today’s world. Much has changed. Rowan County Airport is now Mid-Carolina Regional Airport (RUQ) with a 5,500 crowned-and-grooved runway, 30,000 square feet of newly constructed corporate hangar space, and a new state-of-the-art conference room. It’s one of the crown jewels of Rowan County.
In recent years, the airport has been taken under the wing (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners who pumped money into improving facilities. “They see the growth potential,” says Kevin Davis, Airport Director, who came here two years ago from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT).
The results are coming in and they are the good stuff, just as commissioners planned.
- There’s been a 31 percent increase in the total economic impact on the community in the last few years, according to the 2019 report from the state. The airport financial impact on Rowan County is now above $142 million annually.
- An additional half million dollars goes to the county and state in tax revenue. It’s almost $5 million now.
- A total of 795 jobs are associated with the airport and its support businesses.
Davis attributes all of this to the improvements that the commissioners authorized, as well as to the favorable economy.
“We recognize that, like our interstate highway and state roads, the airport is an important gateway into our community,” says Greg Edds, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and the non-voting liaison on the Airport Advisory Board. “Providing quality facilities and centralized access to major markets at a competitive price brings new investment into our community, and those new revenues help us fund those things that we all agree are important to Rowan County.”
Business Travel Increasing
Business jet use makes up 25 percent of airport traffic, and this portion of the airport business is steadily increasing. There are 51,000 take-offs from the airport in a year’s time.
Joe Gibbs Racing flies here from near Myrtle Beach to practice at the Toyota Center in Salisbury. The airport is only 18 miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway, attracting race fans, with its courtesy and rental car options. Other tourist attractions in Rowan County also benefit. Recent visitor, Bradley Pearce, who flew his plane here, raved about the success of his trip to the airport and use of a courtesy car for a trip to the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer.
‘A Time Machine’
“We are a time machine,” says Davis. Flying into the local airport, instead of busy Charlotte “can save someone an entire day, depending on the trip,” he adds. There are no long security lines or traffic snarls.
All 90 hangars at the airport are leased and there is a “pretty extensive” wait list, Davis says. This is true of regional airports across the state, he says. There is also a demand for pilots.
“As the Charlotte area communities continue to grow, as well as the Concord Regional Airport, we’re seeing a lot of that growth flow here,” Davis says. The airport promotes its proximity to Interstate 85, Interstate 77, and Interstate 40, making it easy access to the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.
Fuel prices are competitive with other regional airports, making it cheaper to operate here. But the big draw is the time element. “We get you in and out really quickly,” says Davis.