Lumberton Municipal Airport
The sky’s the limit
Business View Magazine interviews Bob Snuck, Manager of Lumberton Municipal Airport, for our focus on U.S. Regional Airports
The City of Lumberton is a popular destination in the coastal plains region of southeastern North Carolina in Robeson County. Lumberton has grown tremendously since its creation in 1787. Of the 123,339 people residing in Robeson County today, almost 21,000 live within the city limits of Lumberton. The community is home to the Lumber River State Park and the Lumber River, 115 miles of exceptional waterway, flows through the city. The river is considered one of the most highly prized recreation sites in the State. Boating, fishing, hunting, picnicking, camping, nature study, swimming, biking, jogging, fossil and artifact hunting are but a few of the many activities that draw visitors from far and wide. And Lumberton Municipal Airport is a great means of getting there, as a well as an economic booster for the local economy.
Lumberton Municipal is a general aviation airport conveniently located less than four miles west of the central business district of the city of Lumberton. The Airport covers an area of 485 acres and has two asphalt runways – 5,502 X 150 feet, and 5,003 X 75 feet. The city originally passed a referendum to have it built back in 1940, but before construction could be finished the war broke out and the War Department leased the land and completed construction. In 1952, the property was turned back over to the city and saw a short stint of commercial aviation – being a halfway point between New York and Miami. This lasted until 1955 and since then it has served as a GA facility with around 40 aircraft. It also serves as the business aircraft hub of the area. The first FBO was built to service the commercial piston aircraft but the dawn of the jet age diverted traffic.
These days, a new terminal building is the pride and joy of Lumberton Municipal. According to Airport Manager, Bob Snuck, “It is an incredible building with a lot of unique features. For example, we have a carpet runner that is exactly the same as the layout of the runway, at 5 feet wide and 40 foot long. And we have aviation-themed metal chairs with leather seating and tables that look like aircraft wings. This terminal was badly needed. It gives us over 5,000 square feet of terminal space, while also having an upstairs that is 5,000 feet and unfinished.” The plan is to attract aviation industry tenants for the upstairs, or perhaps even a retail company. There is currently some interest in renting the space, in the meantime, the airport is also renting conference space, and has recently been used by Smithfield Farms.
Although income was substantially down this year because of reduced fuel sales owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Airport recently experienced a turnaround. Air traffic in October 2020 was double that of October 2019; much of that being corporate jets. Indeed, it would seem the new terminal is making an impact.
There are many possibilities for the future. Property outside the airport’s current perimeter can be developed into buildable space for any aviation or non-aviation related businesses that may want to locate there. It has all been zoned as the Airport Industrial Park. It is also possible to expand the airport out and there is a willingness to work with any company to develop what they need. Because of this attitude of cooperation, the Airport has become a significant economic driver for the area. In fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation estimates that Lumberton Municipal contributes approximately $14 million, annually, to the local city and county economies.
Like every airport, there are always projects and possibilities but, over the past decade, Lumberton has been working hard to bring their airport into the best working order it has ever achieved. They have upgraded to LED lighting, increased ramp capacity, and even reinforced the runways with injection foam molding to address underground deterioration that has taken place since the War Department first created them. “One of the big things we have to do next is work on our ILS, our Instrument Landing System,” says Snuck. “Our system is now obsolete. The ILS is set up with an outer marker and middle marker. We’re looking at changing that to DME, Distance Measuring Equipment, which is a measuring device using ground and air components to determine the slant range of an aircraft to a point.”
This is first item on the “need to do” list. There is a priority list, of course, but Snuck has many ideas about the direction to take. He notes, “We will do the ILS and then we are also doing a substantial project with taxiways. We are creating a partial parallel taxiway for runway five. That’s going forward to approval in January for funding from the Bureau of Transportation and it will extend the parallel taxiway down to the approach end of runway five. This is something we have been planning for about four years and we are planning the same thing with runway two three. A full parallel taxiway is required by the FAA, if you have instrument approach with minimums that are less than one mile, which we do have.”
Lumberton Airport has also had the engineering approved for a new fuel farm with two 12,000-gallon tanks; one for 100 low lead and one for Jet A, both of which will have self-service capability. Right now, there is no easy 24-hour way to fuel aircraft. Snuck reports, “We have Life Light Air Ambulance helicopters coming in after hours to fuel their helicopters, so it is a priority to have the self-serve fuel farm. With a new system and a new charge card machine that will be all state of the art, it will be so much easier. Duke Power, the State Patrol, and Duke University Hospital all want to be using our facilities with this.”
“We are also going through the process to be an approved testing centre with PSI to give pilot examinations,” Snuck continues. “We will be doing all the written examinations for the FAA. Then there is the Emerging Technology Institute who have 17 people ready to take drone examinations right now. This company is a subcontractor to the military, and they are interested in doing a lot of drone activity here at the airport. The military does other things here, as well. We also sublet the old closed runways for local police vehicle training, so there are a lot of different groups using our facilities.”
What does the future hold? Snuck suggests that the top of the wish list would include two 10-unit T-hangars, as well as a large maintenance or community hangar. These are in the capital plan for the next five years and, as soon as the priority items are taken care of, work can begin. “What I would really like to see happen is for us to be designated a Free Trade Zone,” says Snuck. “I have suggested this to Economic Development, to the city, and the county. It would be the best thing to attract new companies to our business zone, and it would change everything in terms of attracting foreign business. Because in doing that they could use warehouses here and have manufacturing here, where they don’t pay any type of import fees until those products reach the destination. I think the economy must change in the local area. Having this declared a Free Trade Zone would do just that. And we are perfectly situated at the crossroads of I-95 and I-74, so we would have rail, air, and dual interstate access all nearby. There is just so much possibility there.”
The truth is that Lumberton Municipal is a well-situated airport for travel whether you are heading North, South, East or West. With all of the expansions and a continuing emphasis on partnering with new business, the sky’s the limit.
AT A GLANCE
Lumberton Municipal Airport
What: A general aviation, public use airport
Where: Robeson County, North Carolina