County unveils airport upgrades

Fairfield County Council Chairman Billy Smith, center, and Fairfield County Airport Director Denise Bryant cut the ribbon during the grand re-opening of the county airport. | Nancy Mayer

WINNSBORO – Gov. Henry McMaster couldn’t make it Monday.

But the next time South Carolina’s governor needs to fly into Winnsboro, spiffy new airport infrastructure will be there to greet him.

Following a tough stretch on the economic development front, Fairfield County received a welcome lift when it formally unveiled the scope of a recently completed runway lighting and signage project.

“It’s the best airport project I’ve ever worked on,” said airport director Denise Bryan. “And I’ve worked at commercial airports. This one went very smoothly.”

A quick glance of the premises helps explain why.

After touring the airport, these two rest on the tarmac as they await the next flight.

Blue LED lightning now lines the nearly one-mile runway and accompanying taxiway. New signage, new sign pads and a newly painted beacon tower are among the laundry list of features added to the airport.

“Some of these things are only things that commercial airports have,” Bryan said. “Your GA (general aviation) airport has some of these, so we can take larger aircraft.”

About the only thing missing during Monday’s ribbon cutting ceremony was McMaster, who along with S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, had been invited to the festivities.

Even without the governor and fellow cabinet member, there still was plenty to celebrate. Modern airport facilities are seen as critical in the county’s effort to attract new industry.

At a recent county council meeting, county officials stated that a state plane carrying Secretary Hitt literally couldn’t land at the Fairfield County Airport several months ago due to its then-dilapidated conditions.

Additionally, the looming loss of 126 jobs at Element Electronics, which blamed recent Trump Administration tariffs on Chinese goods as the cause, makes a viable airport particularly vital to industrial recruitment.

“I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met who say they know about our airport,” County Chairman Billy Smith said. “We’ve got prospects that visit the county on a weekly basis. We’ve got somebody that’s going to be in the county tomorrow,” he said.

“A lot of counties would love to have a resource like we do. A lot of (runways) are still grass,” Smith continued. “A rising tide raises all ships.”

From a fiscal standpoint, the process was equally smooth, with very little local funding applied toward the project.

Ninety percent of the $780,000 price tag (about $702,000) came from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA.

The remaining 10 percent was divided equally between the state and Fairfield County.

“All of our infrastructure, including assets like this, help us tremendously,” said County Administrator Jason Taylor.

Looking forward, additional upgrades lie on the horizon.

Taylor said the airport’s gas pumps need to be upgraded. Additional hangar space is needed and a stormwater study is currently underway.

Bryan, the airport director, also would like to look into resurfacing the runway and taxiway.

“We have a lot to offer,” Bryan said. “Obviously not as much as a commercial airport. We can’t land a 727. We need a longer runway, but it wouldn’t take much more, we’re pretty close.”

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