2018-10-11 / Front Page

Groundbreaking marks start of runway extension


A “record number” of groundbreakers took part in ceremonies at the W-W Municipal Airport, making way for the long-awaited runway extension to 5,000 feet. A “record number” of groundbreakers took part in ceremonies at the W-W Municipal Airport, making way for the long-awaited runway extension to 5,000 feet. The ceremonial beginning of an almost $2 million expansion of the Washington-Wilkes Municipal Airport was held last Thursday as some 36 dignitaries and visitors wielded golden shovels to participate in the groundbreaking for the runway’s extension to 5,000 feet.

The Washington-Wilkes Chamber of Commerce After Hours open house has become an annual event and many of those in attendance remember a similar groundbreaking for the west taxiway about three years ago. Long before and since that time, projects and upgrades at the airport have been designed to lead up to runway expansion with the goal set at 5,000 feet, a significant milestone length.

“We have been talking about extending our airport for probably more than 25-30 years,” Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore said. “The way this has worked out for us could not have been better. Only nine rural airports were approved for this money that the governor set aside. We were just in the right place at the right time for it to impact us this way.”


Photos by MERCER HARRIS Photos by MERCER HARRIS Moore thanked all who had contributed to the effort including the Airport Commission and especially the county’s engineering firm, Lead Edge Design Group, and its president, Phil Eberly. “Without their engineering and being ‘ready to go’ this would not have happened,” he said.

The way the funding for the expansion came about and the stringent requirements for scheduling made securing the funding something of a challenge for the county and Lead Edge was responsible for making sure everything was done properly and on time.

Moore further thanked all the members of the County Commission and Airport Commission who contributed to the effort throughout the last 25 or more years.


Gary Ward’s air show delighted visitors, pilots, and dignitaries at the airport’s open house and groundbreaking. Gary Ward’s air show delighted visitors, pilots, and dignitaries at the airport’s open house and groundbreaking. “We really look forward to all the traffic this is going to bring in,” Moore added. “It’s another piece of infrastructure that this county needs, and we’ve been looking for it for years and years.”

Remembering previous projects at the airport especially during recent years, Eberly pointed out how they had all led up to this day.

“This is a huge milestone day for the airport and for the community,” he said. “Of all the airports in Georgia (there are 104) this one is the only one that had methodically done everything that they [the Georgia DOT and the FAA] wanted to happen for the last three years. That comes from the leadership of the County Commission, the Airport Commission, and support from the community.”


Lead Edge Design’s Phil Eberly described how planning helped get the runway extension funding. Lead Edge Design’s Phil Eberly described how planning helped get the runway extension funding. Eberly and other Lead Edge representatives spend a lot of time in the communities where they work. He explained his close emotional ties and commitment to Wilkes County, calling it a “phenomenal community.”

In addition to the industrial economic advantages offered by a 5,000-foot runway, Eberly also pointed to tourism opportunities, using The Masters golf tournament in Augusta as an example.

Because of the heavy air traffic for The Masters every spring, he said, “the FAA has to assign slots allowing people to fly in. At 5,000 feet, we will now be included as a place where they can send planes. Then those people will spend money here and the airport will let them be introduced to your community.


Airport Commission Chairman Harris Blackmon welcomed the crowd to the airport for the groundbreaking ceremony. Airport Commission Chairman Harris Blackmon welcomed the crowd to the airport for the groundbreaking ceremony. “When you get people like that to get just a taste of what it’s like to be here, they will love it,” Eberly continued. “So the airport is a tool for both tourism and economic development. It’s just a super positive. This community, more than any other in the state, has embraced that. It’s fantastic.”

Early during the open house, renowned aerobatics pilot Gary Ward delivered another of his outstanding and fantastic solo air shows above the W-W airport. He had done the same for the past several such events here.

“Not every airport has a Gary Ward, who is one of the top pilots in the entire world, to do a free air show in support of this airport and the community,” Eberly said. The crowd responded with applause.

The actual construction of the runway extension will begin around the first of the year and will be complete in plenty of time for next fall’s open house event. After that, plans include the extension of the taxiway to match the runway extension, and the construction of additional hangars at the airport. “There are a lot of folks who want to be here,” Eberly said, indicating the need for additional hangar space.

W-W Airport Commission Chairman Harris Blackmon welcomed all those in attendance and introduced the other members of the commission including Terry Boswell, George Brooks, Kinsey Butler, Dann Standard, Sparky Newsome, and County Commissioner Charles Jackson.

Lead Edge Design Group presented W-W Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Singleton with a “generous” donation to tourism which will be put to use in the Chamber of Commerce office to promote Washington as a destination.

The 36 shovels used in the groundbreaking ceremony eclipsed the previous local record of 31 set for the west taxiway in 2015.

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