Leesburg Mapping Out Airport’s Future

The public last week got its first chance to view a proposed 20-year master plan for Leesburg Executive Airport. It’s a document that has had an exhaustive amount of work put into it by members of the town’s Airport Commission, airport staff, as well as an outside engineering firm. The Town Council is expected to get its first glimpse at the document early next month.

Acknowledging that “there’s not a lot of room for the airport to grow physically and land-wise,” the plan focuses on use of undeveloped land on the airport’s west side, about 40 acres, said Airport Manager Scott Coffman.

That area, along the Peterson Companies’ Compass Creek commercial development, is expected to be used to attract more business tenants to the airport. A new entrance would be created to access that west side of the airport, although motorists would not be able to access the airport terminal from that part of the property. Larger commercial hangars are envisioned for the west side development, but these are not planned to be built with only town funding. Although the town airport receives a majority of its funding for capital projects from the Federal Aviation Administration and the state Department of Aviation, hangar projects are typically not funded.

“The airport may lease that land to a company or developer that wants to build the hangars themselves,” Coffman said of the west side hangar project. Another possibility, he said, is exploring a public private partnership.

Tom Brandon, town capital projects manager, said the master plan also envisions replacing some hangars that aren’t in ideal locations, as well as constructing 26 more hangars on the north end of the airport property.

The master plan also maps out a future extension of the airport’s runway. The engineering firm that helped put together the plan, Talbert & Bright, presented several alternatives to accomplish this. With not a lot of free land to work with, the ideal alternative presented would allow takeoffs on the runway extension, but not landings.

“Larger aircraft need the extra length for takeoff but not necessarily landing,” Coffman explained. This means the slopes of the land are different, Brandon added.

Other alternatives to accomplish the runway extension would involve the relocation of Sycolin Road, a project that would not only be costly at more than $20 million, but controversial. It’s an alternative that has not found much town support at the commission level, and that isn’t expected to change when it goes before the council. The FAA would also need to sign off on those plans.

“For the FAA to approve it they would do a cost/benefit analysis, and moving the road is very expensive. It becomes questionable whether we’d ever get [funding],” for the extension project, Brandon said.

The master plan also envisions the development of a new taxiway within the next 15 to 20, as well as maintenance of the existing runways and taxiways.

Both Coffman and Brandon emphasized that the master plan does not anticipate dramatic changes at the airport over the next two decades.

“We’re not changing the use of the airport. We’re not planning to accommodate larger aircraft; the same-sized corporate aircraft that fly in here today is the same size [envisioned in the plan],” Coffman said. The addition of more corporate hangars, as well as the return of a customs facility expected to open at the airport by the late spring, could generate more activity.

The master plan includes projections for the next 20 years. Currently, there are around 250 aircraft based at the airport. By 2036, that number is expected to nearly double to 419, Brandon said. Currently, the airport handles 115,000 operations per year, measured in takeoffs and landings. That is expected to jump to 180,000 in 20 years.

Brandon said the airport would likely be operating near capacity at the end of the next 20 years.

“At some point we will run out of space,” he said.

The ultimate goal of planning for the next 20 years, Coffman said, is to make sure the airport can still stand on its own two feet financially.

“The airport is not supposed to ever be a burden to its sponsor,” the Town of Leesburg, Coffman said.

Following council review of the master plan, the document will go on to the FAA for approval, a process that can take several months, Brandon said. The FAA and state Department of Aviation contributed 98 percent of the funding for the master plan study, with the town chipping in the final 2 percent.

The public may view the draft master plan online at loudounnow.com/airportplan.

The airport’s future is expected to receive a fair share of attention in the New Year. In addition to approval of the master plan, the council is also expected to discuss whether it wants to explore a funding arrangement with Loudoun County. And with active testing on the airport’s remote tower completed in September, Coffman said he expects to wrap up that data analysis by the late winter or early spring in order to determine how to proceed with that project.



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