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Stanly Airport open despite downturn with COVID-19

Many industries have been hit hard with the onset of restrictions due to COVID-19 including the smaller airports of North Carolina.

Stanly County Airport, despite staying open, has had a drastic reduction in its day-to-day operation, according to the airport director Ken Swaringen.

The reduction, which he called significant and estimated to be at least 50 percent of regular traffic, included private aircraft and military traffic, some coming from Fort Bragg.

Those teaching and receiving flying lessons have not been able to get up in the air as well, further reducing traffic at the airport.

The control tower and radar, both of which are Air National Guard assets, are closed. The confined space in the tower does not allow room for proper social distancing, Swaringen said. He added the 145th Air Wing’s support activities are still on normal operational hours along with other prior coordinated military activity requiring support.

Hours of operation for the airport and public access to the new terminal building have been restricted.

Revenue from fuel sales has also decreased, the director said, adding not everyone who flies into Stanly’s airport gets fuel.

Swaringen said he believes the stay-at-home order has been the main reason traffic has reduced. Many companies such as Michelin, Preformed Line Products and Clayton Homes, whose executives fly regularly into the airport, have gone to video conferencing.

“The military have gone to minimal manning doing what they need to do to maintain…they’re not endangering their folks and I can appreciate that because we need to be military strong,” Swaringen said.

The limited access has also been instituted to protect the airport’s small staff, Swaringen added, including the linemen that service airplanes.

The reduced traffic has also been in part to prevent staff from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Because of their special training, a lineman’s skills are such that you can not go out and get someone off the street to do their job, Swaringen explained. So in order to preserve staff, the access has been limited to the runways and equipment.

“We don’t have a big team to start with, so we’re very conscious of trying to keep everybody healthy so we can serve (the public) as long as we can,” Swaringen said.

Many airports the size of Stanly County Airport have self-service pumps, but Stanly’s are under repair due to power surge damage. People needing jet fuel have to get some now by appointment.

“Our focus as much as anything is protecting staff because we are so limited,” Swaringen said.

The director also said having staff to work is a necesity should Stanly become a destination for relief flights into North Carolina in the future.

Swaringen said a notice has been published for pilots to look at prior to filing flight plans. The notice asks for them to contact to Stanly staff 20 minutes prior to landing if fuel service is needed.

“Normally, we don’t have that kind of restriction,” Swaringen said, adding the phone call has a two-fold use. One is for services, but the other is to evaluate where the aircraft is coming in from to be prepared if the vehicle is coming from a place where coronavirus is more widespread.

“‘We can kind of see where they are coming from and evaluate and be prepared. We don’t just open the door,” Swaringen said.

He added the staff and he are familiar with most of the regular executives and such who fly into Stanly. Flights which he said were more out of the ordinary would get the staff’s attention to be more careful.

The director said if it was a flight from a hotspot for COVID-19, it would raise questions they may not normally have with a normal-day operation.

Many airports, Swaringen added, have had to open runways and such for the task of parking additional aircraft grounded due to the restrictions.

For Stanly, though, it is about protecting the staff and staying the course.

“Everybody stay safe and heed the warning…this will pass and we will get through it, but it’s going to be a challenge.”

The airports across the state will be getting some needed help, according to an announcement from Sen. Thom Tillis. Stanly County was one of 27 different airports scheduled to received $30,000, or .01 percent of the total sum.

Eleven other smaller airports received $20,000 each, while 18 slightly larger airports received $69,000 each. Charlotte-Douglas International received the largest share of the award ($135.5 million) with Raleigh/Durham to get just under $50 million. Other regional airports received a combined total of $95.7 million.

A total of $238.7 million was awarded from the United States Department of Transportation to airports in the state. Money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) act to assist operations and save workers’ jobs during the pandemic.

 Contact Charles Curcio at charles.curcio@stanlynewspress.com, or call 704-983-1361. 

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored twice by the North Carolina Press Association.

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