Davidson County Airport
Forging a New Path Forward
Servicing a multitude of flights coming in and. Davidson County flies into a profitable future
Airports are gearing up for increased aviation traffic as we head for the height of spring travel and the tourist season. For many airports, focusing on upgrading existing facilities remains a top priority. For Davidson County Airport, meeting this increased aviation demand drives its focus on ensuring the airport operations are first-rate and exceed traveling requirements.
“This is a full-service airport with everything from small to large airplanes and on the field,” begins Rick Phillips, Chairman of the Airport Authority for the Davidson County Airport.
“We have full-service maintenance capabilities for anything from pistons to jets. I have been on the board for 13 years now – almost 14, and I have been a pilot for 44 years, with a multi-engine commercial license.”
Phillips describes that he has been involved in almost every aviation aspect throughout his career.
“Back in 2002 I moved here to Lexington, bought a business and a plane, and got involved at the airport. And back in the day when I first started flying, I feel that although we did have some heavier airplanes operating out of here, for the most part, this was more of a county airport, with a lot of Cessnas and pipers and Sunday afternoon flyers. When you walked up the ramp you would see rows of piston planes and the occasional turboprop. And I was just remarking about a month ago, walking up that same ramp, how much it has changed – jet after jet sitting on the ramp.”
“It’s not a bad thing,” Phillips continues, “When I first came on the board we were perceived by the public as a place for a bunch of rich guys to go out and with their toys. That is not the case, and it never has been, but that is the perception of a lot of people. This is as much a business airport as anything these days, and in fact, more so. I would say most of the takeoff and landings here have to do with business aviation versus pleasure flying. It also has become a tremendous economic driver in this area.
“Our local government, particularly our county government has zeroed in on that in the last few years particularly, and they have stepped up and supported us, as has the state and FAA funding, and with growth projects, this airport has been responsible for several businesses relocating to Lexington. Admittedly, we are also perfectly situated in the center of the state, halfway between the northeastern states and the southern states like Florida and Georgia and we are also 30 seconds from the interstate.”
Three miles north of the city of Lexington, The Davidson County Airport sits on 330 acres of land with one runway, 6/24 which is 5,004 by 100 feet. In the coming months, there is a massive renovation and restoration scheduled which will create a new runway, taxiway, and apron. For now, the airport continues to grow and serve the business needs of Lexington.
Phillips continues to point to the current growth and success of the airport by offering comparisons to how it was a decade ago. When he became chair of the authority 13 years ago there was a proposal to get a MALSR system (medium intensity approach lighting system) and three months ago it was finally completed.
“It’s a strobe light system that goes right down the centerline of the runway,” says Phillips, “and it is a huge game-changer, particularly at night or in low visibility weather. It has greatly improved the safety at our airport and allowed more companies to see us as a viable option – certain insurance companies require that level of safety. The pavement project will be the next project that will change everything. On the 20th of March, we are closing our runway for 42 days and we are going to completely reconstruct it.
“Not just the runway asphalt but we will be going down to replace the sub base as well. At the same time, we will be redoing all the taxiways. And creating two large apron areas. The runway will also be grooved now. We are also in the process of building four ten thousand-square-foot hangars here and have plans to construct four more as quickly as possible. We have a new aviation maintenance company that has been located here with us for the past two years, Sky Aircraft Maintenance (SAM) and they have some aggressive growth plans as well as hangar construction plans. We just have a lot of exciting things here going on at our airport now and we are having a lot of knocks at our door. This time next year everything will be different, and that is exciting.”
Karel Van Der Linden is both the owner of the Fixed Base Operator for Davidson County Airport, Fly High Lexington, and General Manager for the Airport, as such he is very familiar with the day-to-day operation and makeup of the almost 3000 engagements per month. He points to another area of growth, flight schools.
“You know, we have known there was a pilot shortage looming for five years,” he begins, “and it is affecting the industry. But at the same time, we see growth. We now have two flight schools at the airport: Elite Flight Academy which does all types of flight school training using both a simulator and four airplanes, and we also have Davidson Flight Academy which also has several airplanes. Both are quite busy, and one opened just before the pandemic while the second started during it.”
“Because we are growing the terminal is another project we are looking at,” says Van Der Linden, “We approved funding last year for the design phase and we are working with a budget of six and a half to seven million dollars. All that we know for sure is that it must be on the same site, two stories, and there will be several designs presented.”
There are currently six corporate tenants at the airport which include the FBO, Fly High Lexington, and Sky Aircraft Maintenance, which has two divisions. A Medivac Helicopter Company, the two flight schools, and a large corporate flight department, RCR.
“As far as the day-to-day operations and the relationship with the county, it has never been better,” adds Jack Robertson, manager for Fly High Lexington. We have a county that is extremely supportive of the growth the airport has experienced for the past several years. The county is definitely supporting the airport and backing us up. And the economic numbers back up just how important this relationship is.
He points out that the state published an economic impact assessment of airports, and it showed that Davidson County Airport supports 540 jobs. It contributes 4.35 million in tax revenue and $130 million in total economic impact. The population within a 30-minute drive of the airport is over half a million people and the airport supports personal income of over $30 million.
“That shows just how much growth and change there has been. We now have people who fly in here from 37 different states including flights from Canada. The breakdown is 93% private and 7% charter. We are projecting over 32000 operations next year.”
“As we move forward, we are going to increase our focus on customer service,” Robertson muses, “because we do have a lot of transient stops from people flying north or south – and we want to be a complete service option for our customers, not just a fuel stop. So, we handle transportation to and from town, we have rental companies and Uber as well as Lyft operating from the airport.
“We pump the fuel, service the aircraft, and aim to offer the best service around. At the same time, Lexington is known for its BBQ – and people really do fly in just for the BBQ. Instead of a hundred-dollar hamburger, we offer the $100 Pork BBQ. So, whether you are flying in for business, pleasure, … or BBQ, our number one goal is to provide the best service for this type of airport anywhere in this region.”
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AT A GLANCE
Davidson County Airport
WHAT: A growing General and Business Aviation Airport
WHERE: 3 miles north of Lexington, North Carolina