Appointment validates what Bryan has done for Fairfield County Airport

Fairfield County Airport can now accommodate more large corporate jets, like this one that arrived for the grand opening of MLILY. | Denise Bryan

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County Airport Director Denise Bryan has been elected to the State Aeronautics Commission as the District 2 State Aeronautics Commissioner.

The appointment is one more validation of the important work Bryan has accomplished since she was hired in 2017 to bring the airport from multiple levels of deficiency to what many, today, call the county’s crown jewel.


Bryan says her position on the State Aeronautics Commission will further benefit Fairfield County Airport because it will increase her knowledge of how things work in the industry and of what is available financially to bring more improvements to the airport.

“It will also allow for me to be seen – by other districts – in a higher capacity at the state level and be able to work with others to advance aviation in our county and in the state,” says Bryan.

The county’s airport, located off Hinnants Store Road in Winnsboro, is an especially valuable commodity in the county’s economic development toolbox and with the improvements Bryan has initiated over the last seven years, it now accommodates some of the country’s finest corporate jets dispatching and picking up CEO’s, dignitaries, government officials, and even some movie and music stars who prefer the anonymity of flying in to a nice, quiet airport out of the public eye en route to their South Carolina destinations.

But it was not always so before then-County Administrator Jason Taylor hired Bryan, a pilot herself, as director of the airport in 2017.

“It was very forward thinking on Mr. Taylor’s part to hire a director for Fairfield’s small general aviation airport,” Bryan says. “Other counties are now seeing the benefit of doing that and are hiring directors for their airports.”

Bryan recalls the many deficiencies the airport was suffering upon her arrival.

“Mr. Taylor asked me what it needed,” Bryan said. “I told him it needed a card reader for the fuel tanks so pilots could refuel their planes if they flew in after the terminal closed at 5 p.m.”

As Bryan soon learned, however, that wasn’t the airport’s only or most significant deficiency.

The underground fuel farm, she discovered, didn’t comply with regulations set by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

“We found that our fuel farm and our tanks were not what they should be,” said Taylor, who is now town manager for the Town of Newberry. “The tanks weren’t even licensed by DHEC.”

For the next two years, Bryan oversaw the construction of a new state-of-the-art fuel farm that was completed in December of 2020.

Two 12,000-gallon fuel tanks were installed. With the extra capacity, the airport can take in more fuel deliveries, which translate into lower costs for the airport.

In addition, the pumps now feature not only a card reader display but a second screen display large enough for pilots to view, even when they’re fueling their planes from the opposite side of their craft.

“You can actually go to the other side of your plane to fuel and you can see the dollar amount of what’s going into your plane,” Bryan said.

“The new above ground fuel farm she brought in is very attractive, well-done. It’s something to be proud of now,” said Taylor at the time.

Bryan also initiated other major upgrades including LED airport lighting and signage that lowered the monthly airport electric bill from $700 to $200 – $300; installation of a new hanger door; and resurfacing of the 5,200-foot runway, ramps, and taxiways. The airport also now boasts a laser grade testing center, a pilot’s shop, flight instruction and new T-Hangars.

The updated airport was hand in glove with the economic boom the county enjoyed from 2018 to 2021. As the county brought in more than $100 million in economic development during that time, the airport accommodated corporate jets from as far away as China.

And Bryan says improvements are ongoing. She wants to be ready for future economic development needs when they present themselves.

“We have just finished the first phase of a large drainage project that was paid for with a $2.7 million grant,” she says, “and we’re now working on getting funding for the second half of the project – the design and bid process.

“We’re also getting ready to install a wash rack for washing the planes. The process will separate the water and oil before the water goes into the wastewater. That will cost about $300,000 with the county’s match at only about $8,000,” Bryan says.

While many improvements have been made in the last seven years, Bryan says more are still needed.

“Upgrading and modernizing the airport is important because it’s often the first impression CEOs of prospective industries have when they fly into Fairfield County,” Bryan said.

“While we have over 5,000 feet of runway, which is required for insurances purposes for most corporate planes to land, some planes need a longer runway for take-off. We really need 8,000 feet to accommodate any plane to land and take off,” Bryan says.

“That will be an expensive project,” she acknowledged, “but if you have economic development with jets coming in, that’s worth it.”

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