FBO services land at new Washington reliever field

 - January 14, 2008, 6:06 AM

Stafford Regional Airport (RMN), located about 30 nm south-southwest of downtown Washington, D.C., is now providing transient aircraft and their crews services from a temporary building. Amenities include a pilot lounge and rest area, conference room, flight-planning facilities and a crew car.

Conceived more than a decade ago, the airport is lagging behind its original schedule. The 5,000- by 100-foot runway was opened to VFR, daylight-only traffic in December 2001, sans any services.

Since then the Stafford Airport Authority has signed a contract with Bryan, Texas-based Trajen Flight Support, which currently operates out of a triple-wide trailer. The FBO provides both jet-A and 100LL from fuel trucks, and a fuel farm is being installed.

“Development calls for six corporate hangars,” said Bill Sneesby, Trajen manager. “If a corporation in this area wanted to build a hangar, right now [leases] are going for 60 cents a square foot [a year]. If you’re going to get in here, get in during the developmental stages.”

Designated Reliever
RMN is designated as a reliever airport for both Ronald Reagan Washington National and Dulles International Airports. That appellation as a reliever in the FAA’s national airport system plan made it eligible for 90-percent federal funding. The state of Virginia is adding 5 percent, and the local sponsors–Stafford and Prince William Counties and the city of Fredericksburg, Va.–have contributed the final 5 percent.

Trajen and the sponsoring Stafford Regional Airport Authority tout RMN for its proximity to the nation’s capital, 50 minutes by car to the north via I-95. The airport practically abuts the interstate, and an interchange that should cut the driving time to Washington even more is expected to open next year. Additionally, two commuter rail stations are about two miles from the airport property.

“The state is in the middle of the navaid installation project,” reported Stafford Airport director Cindi Martin. That will include an ILS and associated lighting for Runway 33, as well as an AWOS and ground communications outlet. The field currently has runway lighting and a rotating beacon.

Already on the drawing board is a fuel farm and the first of nine 10-aircraft T-hangar complexes. “We have designed them and gotten permits, and now we received the final portion of our funding,” said Martin. “We are hoping to break ground on these facilities after the winter shutdown.”

Like many other states, Virginia is facing extreme fiscal shortfalls, which is further delaying many projects. The state participates in up to 80 percent of the cost of the site preparation work for the T-hangars, and caps its contribution for the fuel farm at $125,000, including its design. Both funds have been exhausted, said Martin, and the remainder of the building costs must be paid by the sponsors of the airport, which probably will sell bonds to fund the T-hangar and the fuel farm.

Before the latest budget crunch, a study for a general aviation terminal building was completed, but according to Martin, that “is not in the immediate future at this point in time.” She noted that GA terminals are not eligible for FAA funding, and no requests have been made to the state for design funds.

Stafford Airport is also in the middle of a ramp expansion, which will add 70 feet in width to the entire 1,000-foot-long ramp. In additional to providing more tiedown space, it will provide a taxi-lane area in front of potential future commercial hangars.

The airport authority promotes the field as a haven for corporate and other GA aircraft, and as an economic boon to the region. Before the latest budgetary crunch and business slowdown, annual operations were projected to be in the 50,000 to 75,000 range, with up to 100 based aircraft weighing up to 70,000 lb and with wingspans of up to 80 ft.

With an eye to the future, the authority secured navigation easements to protect more than 200 acres adjacent to the airport so that an ILS could eventually be added to Runway 15. And because it is designated as one of 15 airports the FAA says are needed in the Washington area, it received fast-track funding from the federal government for the FAA’s $40 million share.

More Area Airports Needed

The FAA counts only nine reliever airports for the Washington-Baltimore area, including those at Leesburg and Manassas in Virginia and Frederick, Md. It first designated Stafford County as a potential reliever site in the 1972 national airport system plan. Three years later it was included in the Virginia air-transportation system plan.

“We’ve made a substantial investment in the construction of the airport,” said Rusty Harrington, a senior aviation planner for the Virginia Department of Aviation. “We’re excited about the airport being open. Generally, the consensus is that airports are closing.”

Further development, he said, is up to the airport sponsors, and the timetable is determined by the sponsoring body asking the state for additional funding. But considering the current fiscal pressures facing the state, that is problematic.

“We do believe that the airport should try to develop itself as much as possible, especially to provide [additional] services,” Harrington said. “Facilities such as a terminal building or hangar space will add potential draw to the airport.” Virginia already uses RMN for some of its business aircraft “quite a bit,” and he added that as ground facilities improve “you will see aircraft being based there.”

Trajen’s Sneesby, a 12-year veteran of Piedmont Hawthorne Aviation at Dulles, admitted that the airport is “still in the early developmental stages.” The FBO is currently open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., although after-hours services can be arranged. There is a $50 callout fee if no services are purchased, but that is waived if fuel is purchased (at press time jet-A was $2.35 a gallon), he said.

According to Sneesby, the federal government has allotted funds for security fencing, which he expects to be completed by July. “We’ll have total fenced-in security,” he said. “The only way you’re getting in and out here is through a gate. I’ll have security before I have anything else.”