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Work to extend the runway at Hilton Head airport is nearly done. Here's what that means

Construction on the Hilton Head Island airport runway extension project is expected to be completed in June 2018.
Construction on the Hilton Head Island airport runway extension project is expected to be completed in June 2018. akincaid@islandpacket.com

As tourist season picks up on the island, so will the flights into the Hilton Head Island airport.

About 30,000 people use the airport each year. Most of that traffic happens from April through October, according to Beaufort County airports director Jon Rembold.

And by the end of June, those flying in will have a longer runway with some new features.

The $27.5 million runway extension project began in February 2017. Jet service from American Airlines is expected to begin in July.

The project, funded primarily by the Federal Aviation Administration, will likely bring in more people and allow for more cross-country travel, Rembold said. As jet service begins, the list of destination cities will likely grow, he said.

"It'll definitely bring new money to the island and the county and economy here," Rembold said. "Currently, the airport generates $166 million in economic impact every year operating as we do right now. So that number is definitely going to increase, and that's a benefit to everyone."

Take these five steps for a smooth airport experience, from TSA.

The runway extension project is the result of a master plan completed in 2010. Safety improvements to the runway were needed, Rembold said.

The FAA recommended the 4,300-foot runway be expanded to 5,300 feet. But public outcry led officials to compromise, Rembold said.

The runway was instead extended to 5,000 feet.

The FAA concluded in 2015 the extension would have little environmental impact.

Five buildings previously constructed in the airport's "clear zone" had to be removed for the project, along with trees in the area, Rembold said. The taxiway also had to be moved.

The $7.9 million taxiway relocation project was completed last year.

An FAA design change led to the purchase of two public storage buildings that were also demolished, bringing the total number of buildings removed to seven, Rembold said.

Some demolition work is still needed to a building on Beach City Road, Rembold said, but only a portion of the building is being taken out.

At a pre-application meeting with town staff Monday, Rembold said the remaining portion of the building will be used for airport maintenance and administration.

That building, at 154 Beach City Road, is part of a commercial complex called The Commons at Beach City Road.

Rembold said the businesses in the building moved out several years ago. The owners were paid for the property, as well as relocation and re-establishment costs in accordance with federal guidelines.

A final paving of the runway is still needed, along with pavement markings and lighting, Rembold said. A new Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) will also be added, he said.

EMAS is an airport safety feature similar to a runaway truck ramp, Rembold said. Lightweight, easily-crushed, concrete blocks will be put at the end of the runway. They're designed to stop any aircraft while not doing much damage to them, he said.

Within the next few years, construction is expected to begin on a terminal expansion and renovation project, Rembold said. A few smaller projects are also planned, such as improvements to the airport entrance from Beach City Road and to the parking lots.

Alex Kincaid: 843-706-8123, @alexkincaid22
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