N.C. airport back to normal again

 - March 28, 2007, 11:14 AM

At Dare County Regional Airport (MQI), N.C., Hank Stock grabs an armload of North Carolina aeronautical charts, centennial year edition, from among thousands left over, to pass out like breath mints to the 40 pilots he comes in contact with this cold weekday in late January. There’s no need to reserve a pilot snooze room. The lobby is naptime quiet.

Dare County Regional is one mile northwest of Manteo on the northern tip of Roanoke Island, a two-minute flight from Kitty Hawk, which held the major aviation centennial celebration in December. Airport director George Speak said that in an eight-day period beginning on December 10, MQI saw 3,392 movements. Dare County has now cycled back to the kind of field that makes it a favorite of migratory birds, handling 30 to 60 operations per day.

“We had a temporary control tower in place,” upstairs from the main building, “and a FSDO in the pavilion,” said Speak. Each night, Dare County Sheriff’s deputies patrolled the field. “We figured so long as they were out there, they could count aircraft. At any given time, we had about 400 aircraft on the grounds. About 60 were vintage and part of the fly-bys at Kitty Hawk; maybe 15 percent were business jets. Flexjet and NetJets were in here doing stop-and-drops every day.”

The diverse complement included a Citation X flown by Harrah’s Entertainment, Martha King in her Falcon 10, a Piaggio Avanti and a demonstrator from Adam Aircraft. “The biggest thing we normally get is a Gulfstream operated by General Motors,” explained Stock. Dare County’s single-wheel weight limit for its 4,300-foot Runway 5-23 is 48,000 pounds.

“Our visitors included astronauts such as Charlie Duke and Chuck Yeager, and Elizabeth Dole, Marion Blakey and other government officials. The vintage aircraft were all part of the Commemorative Air Force. All the aerobatic aircraft were parked here: Mike Mancuso, The AeroShell team, Patty Wagstaff. [Emcee] John Travolta flew in to Raleigh on the majors.”

After Hurricane Isabel in the fall, some structure, alarm systems and wiring had been ruined. “We were worried about some holes in the process come December 9, but those all got filled,” said Speak. “For example, our fuel supplier, Eastern Aviation (Shell is the avfuel brand), lent us another 5,000-gallon Jet-A truck and a second avgas truck. And at the last minute we got more volunteers who were experienced fuelers. No criticisms were heard, other than from some who wanted to park on a different patch of grass.”

Speak’s workforce included 87 volunteers and 54 paid Dare County employees. “Since this is normally a slow time of year, the county supervisors said they could work at the airport and they just got their regular pay.” The paid county employees included van drivers, marshallers, security personnel and the regular airport staff of nine. The FBO needed to cover only the bills of four school bus drivers. Vendors and sponsors kicked in the rest.

“We don’t have a radio system for this type of volunteer operation. Motorola lent us one-hundred 800-MHz radios, and they turned out to more or less save the event.”
The Priceless Plane Products Co. of Lawrenceville, Ga., was appointed as the official tug company to sponsor the Wright Brothers First Flight Centennial celebration. Priceless Tugs shipped 11 units and sold five of them while in residence, including one to MQI tenant Dillon’s Aviation/Corporate Air LLC. After the event, Priceless donated one tug to MQI, which remains in service.

The county and airport split the cost for a pavilion across the parking lot from the terminal building. The pavilion held 33 vendors during the centennial celebrations but has been empty since. The county hopes to use it for local seniors, and the FBO for its fish fries.