With renovations complete, airport seeks path to sustainability

Published 4:49 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2020

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With a massive resurfacing project at the Washington-Warren Airport now complete, airport administrators and the Washington City Council are looking at ways to make the airport a self-sustaining enterprise.

Last week, Washington-Warren announced the completion of a $5.9 million resurfacing project at the airfield, which involved repaving the airport’s main runway, three taxiways and the tarmac at the terminal. Funding for the project came from a federal grant for $2.6 million and state grant funding to the tune of $2.9 million. Both grants required a 10% local match, which came to a total of $623,125 for the city.

“It is hard to find a downside to this project,” wrote Washington-Warren Airport Manager Earl Malpass. “It enabled some of our neighbors to continue to work during the pandemic. A worn out airport was revived to serve its community for many more years. An economic tool was sharpened and improved which will attract more business to a willing and able community.”

As that project comes to a close however, the Washington City Council wants to see progress in making the airport financially self-sufficient. Of the airport’s total of $815,228 in expenses in the 2020-21 budget, transfers from the city’s general fund cover $232,842, about 28% of the facility’s budget. During Monday’s city council meeting, Councilman Donald Sadler proposed reducing that subsidy from the general fund by 10% this fiscal year, just over $23,000. Hesitation from other council members brought that proposal down to 5%.

Ultimately, the council agreed to leave the airport’s subsidy intact when passing the budget, but agreed to a plan proposed by Washington Chief Financial Officer Matt Rauschenbach to reexamine the airport’s funding in July or August, possibly amending the budget then.

“You could challenge the airport to come to you with that 5% in a reasonable time frame, end of July or August, to come to you with $12,500 in things they could eliminate or generate more revenue to offset,” Rauschenbach said.

Malapass said Wednesday that he appreciated the opportunity to examine his budget to try and find that $12,500, and believes that with the recent renovations, he’s in a good position to make that happen.

“The short answer is we’re going to eliminate some of the expense for repairs and infrastructure, and rather than outsource the project of creating a 10-year strategy plan, try to get volunteers to help the airport do that,” Malpass said.

When Malpass was hired on as a consultant three years ago, he says he worked with the city to develop a five-year plan to bring the airport to self-sufficiency. A large part of that plan involved rehabilitating the airport’s infrastructure, which for a time was ranked the third or fourth lowest in the state, a status that made Washington-Warren unappealing to aviators and businesses.

Malpass added this upcoming budget was the third of three years of a “get well plan” of rebuilding infrastructure and improving hangers, an endeavor that has averaged about $33,000 per year. With updated hangers, a new runway and a mindset of customer service, he says the airport is in a good position to meet the goal of generating revenue within the next few years. From there, he hopes that 10-year plan will grow the airport as a business and generate more revenue.

“To be completely self-sufficient, where there would be zero transfers of funds from the general fund to the airport, the goal is to make that happen within two years,” Malpass said. “Then the airport will be an a revenue-generating enterprise fund from that point on, filling the niche that there is in this part of eastern North Carolina for general aviation.”