RUSTBURG — As the Brookneal Campbell County Airport faces the loss of the federal funding that keeps it afloat, Campbell County supervisors approved a $1 million to $1.3 million loan to fund the construction of a project that could help reinstate the airport’s federal funding.
At the Campbell County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday night, supervisors unanimously approved funding a bridge loan for the construction of a 13-unit hangar facility. The United States Department of Agriculture loan the airport authority is applying for will allow the authority to reimburse the county the funds once the project is completed.
Until 2018, funding for construction, capital improvements and maintenance for the Brookneal airport was provided primarily by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA paid as much as 95% of the cost, leaving state and local funding to share the remaining 5%.
A reclassification of all general aviation airports in 2018 led the Brookneal airport to lose the classification that allowed it to receive FAA funding. Though it can still receive state funding, the local match ratio has changed dramatically. Without federal funding, the county would be responsible for anywhere from 20% to 40% of the funding.
With major million dollar projects on the horizon — like resurfacing the runway and other capital improvements — Economic Development Director Mike Davidson said regaining the federal funding is imperative.
The easiest minimum eligibility requirement the Brookneal airport would need to again receive the federal funding is to have at least 10 aircraft designate the Brookneal airport as their home field and physical base. The only way to do this, said Davidson, is to construct a 13-unit T- hangar facility — a project with a price tag of more than $1 million.
Without these hangars, Davidson said it would be almost impossible to get pilots to list Brookneal as their base airport.
The airport was formed in the late 1980s and flourished in the early 2000s through the traffic of two major industries, Burlington and Georgia Pacific, who used the airport to bring clients and corporate executives to their facilities in Brookneal.
“That airport was used a ton for a lot of the industry that was located in Brookneal, and as we all know, the majority of all of the industry left Brookneal,” Davidson said. “As the industries faded away, and industries changed from turboprops to jets, the Brookneal Campbell County airport runway is not long enough to accommodate the traffic.”
As planes became more complicated and expensive, pilots no longer wanted to leave planes parked outside in the elements, Davidson said. With no covered facilities to house the planes, it was difficult to attract pilots to house their planes at the airport. Currently, only one plane is physically based at the Brookneal airport.
Despite a drop in commercial traffic, Davidson stressed the airport is still very active. Liberty University’s School of Aeronautics alone performs over 30,000 operations a year at the airport.
As the airport is unmanned, Davidson said they have no way to track all of the private planes that come in and out. However, the “pilot’s lounge” message board has notes from all across the country, and indicates a lot of traffic.
Davidson said the airport authority has approached Liberty University to ask for help addressing the issue — and though he added Liberty has been a “great partner” and very supportive of the airport — it was not feasible for Liberty to house planes at the Brookneal airport or help the authority construct hangars.
“We’re at the kind of chicken and egg,” Davidson said. “Nobody will park their plane outside, so you have to have buildings to get the planes. ... We will never get 10 planes until we have 10 hangars. When we have 10 hangars, we will get 10 planes.”
But without that federal funding, the airport has been at a loss for how to fund the project.
Currently, the airport is looking to acquire a $1 million USDA loan to be paid off over 40 years. Since the USDA will only reimburse the costs after construction, the airport turned to the county for support.
Following staff recommendation, supervisors approved utilizing local funding — with full reimbursement once the USDA funds are disbursed.
While the airport does not currently have commitments from people to use the hangars, Davidson said every airport around them — from Lynchburg to Farmville to Falwell — have waiting lists for people trying to get into hangars. The Lynchburg airport alone has about 27 people on its waiting list.
Spring Hill District Supervisor James Borland voiced his support of the project.
“It looks like if we get these hangars up, we’ll have them filled right away,” Borland said.
Brookneal District Supervisor Charlie Watts echoed the support. As the project is in his district, he said he was in favor of it, and motioned for approval.
As plans currently stand, Davidson said they hope to have the hangars constructed by spring 2021.