Online Originals: The future of eastern Carolina’s regional airports

Online Originals

(WNCT) Eastern North Carolina is home to three regional airports; Pitt-Greenville (PGV) in Greenville, Coastal Carolina in New Bern, and Jacksonville’s Albert J. Ellis Airport.

Although there is competition between the three, they’re all looking towards future expansion and ways to keep up with larger airports.

Pitt-Greenville Airport:

The Pitt-Greenville airport has been around since 1940, but since then it has seen heavy expansion.

Earlier this year, Kim Hopper was made Executive Director of the airport.

When Hopper took over, new branding and a runway project were already underway, which has since been completed.

Now, Hopper has projects of his own in the making.

PGV Executive Director Kim Hopper pointing out areas where future changes will be made on the runway.

“We’ve got a very significant project coming up. It’s a little over four million dollars…where we’re going to be expanding some of the areas on what we call the general aviation ramp. That’s where your private aircraft and your corporate aircraft are.” 

Kim Hopper, PGV Executive Director

This project will be under Barnhill Construction out of Rocky Mount and will begin in the Spring of 2020.

Aside from improving the aircraft operations, the project will improve drainage, expand certain areas of the airport, and enhance the safety of taxiing to and from the runway.

The next goal is bringing a new airline to Pitt-Greenville.

Hopper has already applied for a grant from the federal government to help with the expense of bringing in a new airline.

Currently, PGV has American Airlines which has a hub in Charlotte.

While Hopper says this airline is good for domestic flights, PGV is looking to expand to international connections.

Hopper wouldn’t specify which airline they’re in conversations with, however, he did say that they’ve already had an airline send a letter of support, and they’re hoping to have a major hub in Washington, D.C.

When asked if the addition of another airline would lower PGV costs, Hopper didn’t think that’d be the case.

“I don’t think it’ll necessarily lower our costs because once again we’re not a high-priced airport to fly in and out of,” explained Hopper. “I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to add a little bit more reliability, it’s going to add options, and people are going to take a look at us.” 

Aside from external growth, PGV has added a restaurant called Flight Cafe to its airport.

The restaurant overlooks the flight field with a large glass window.

It also offers catering options.

Flight cafe inside PGV.

Although Hopper is confident that the success of the restaurant will take off, he doesn’t think that PGV will be getting another restaurant anytime soon due to the lack of demand.

“There’s more to follow. Right now they’re getting their feet on the ground. We’re very excited and we’re looking forward to them growing a little bit.”

– Kim Hopper, on the growth of flight cafe

Hopper does feel confident about the future of PGV and believes that if they’re granted another airline, their success will grow.

“I feel all too often this airport isn’t discussed…especially when you discuss transportation in Greenville and Pitt County,” said Hopper. “You really don’t hear about Pitt-Greenville airport that often. This is going to be a regular part of that story when people talk about transportation…that Pitt-Greenville airport is going to be a part of that discussion.”

Albert J. Ellis Airport:

The Albert J. Ellis Airport (video above), or OAJ, in Jacksonville, brings in a lot of beachgoers and family visiting loved ones in the military.

In recent years changes have come to the airport, like a new executive terminal to service corporate and military flyers.

A brand new air traffic control tower and hangers have been added as well.

“We’ve poured a lot of concrete and asphalt over the years.”

– Chris White, Albert J. Ellis Airport Director

Another benefit of OAJ is the jobs it brings to the community.

Over 2,785 people currently work at the airport, resulting in a total of ninety-five million dollars in 2019 of personal income for workers.

OAJ has multiple food and gift shop options.

They’ve paired with a local entrepreneur who runs restaurants Carolina’s Finest Grill and Honey Baked Ham inside the airport.

Like PGV, OAJ is currently seeking more airlines and travel options, but White remains optimistic about the airport’s future.

Coastal Carolina Regional Airport:

A quarter of a million passengers come through Coastal Carolina Regional Airport (video above), or EWN, each year.

Andrew Shorter, the airport’s director, knows smaller regional airports have draws like fewer people, closer parking and shorter security screening lines as opposed to larger airports.

“A lot of people don’t like the larger airports because they’re larger airports. There’s a lot more people…there’s a lot more cars.”

– Andrew Shorter, Coastal Carolina Regional Airport Director

Although regional airports can be more expensive, time is money and, according to Shorter, a lot of people will pay slightly more to avoid the hassles of a big airport.

EWN brings in $363 million in business revenue, $72 million in personal income, 2,125 jobs, and $12 million in state and local taxes.

EWN’s best year for travel was in 2012, but Shorter says those numbers are back on the rise.

For the last few years, passenger count has been up 3-5% year over year.

Looking forward to the future, the airport is working on major updates in a 20-year master plan.

The plan includes:

  • An aircraft rescue and firefighting facility
  • Jet bridges
  • A larger holding area
  • Potential for more commercial vendors
  • An expanded runway and terminal
  • Aerospace development

The first phase of the plan is complete after the facility expanded the apron earlier in the year.

The 20-year plan is underway and Shorter says that everything they do for the future of EWN involves the community.

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