Extending the Hilton Head Island Airport runway to 5,000 feet is more than four years away under a tentative timeline.
Beaufort County airports director Paul Andres and Judy Elder of airport consultant Talbert & Bright presented a five-year plan for airport improvements to the county’s airports board Thursday.
The airport has received more than $800,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration for a required benefit-cost analysis and environmental assessment.
That process is expected to take 18 months.
The county hopes to expedite the process by seeking required permits as it designs the project, Andres said.
The biggest challenging to speeding things up is $8.75 million to purchase eight commercial parcels at the south end and north-west corner of the airport. The purchases are needed to straighten, lengthen and relocate a taxiway, Andres said.
The airport plans to seek about $8.2 million in discretionary FAA grants, and $73,750 from the state to pay for the land purchases in fiscal year 2013.
Construction would likely begin in fiscal 2014 and last about 18 months, Andres said.
Total project cost, including improvements to the commercial terminal, is estimated at about $19.5 million. The FAA is expected to contribute about $18.5 million, the state about $270,000 and the county about $700,000.
Airport officials say Hilton Head has the shortest runway for commercial service in the continental U.S.
County Council and Hilton Head Island Town Council approved a joint resolution in October 2010 adopting a mater plan for the airport. It calls for a two-phased expansion of the 4,300-foot runway to 5,400 feet to ensure the future of commercial and private air service.
The first phase calls for a 700-foot extension.
The current runway and tree obstructions mean airlines have to reduce weight and fly under capacity. Some customers must wait for later flights during peak season and service is less profitable as a result, according to a Talbert & Bright study.
Delta Air Lines pulled out of Hilton Head last fall. The airline cited the route’s poor performance. The commercial carrier is reducing its fleet of the Saab 340 turboprops that operated from Hilton Head. The runway is too short to accommodate other aircraft in Delta's fleet, the company says.
Both Delta and US Airways — now the island’s lone commercial carrier — have indicted they could carry more passengers, making the routes more profitable and thereby more likely to continue, if the runway was extended.