North Carolina Global TransPark
Kinston Regional Jetport; soaring into the year ahead
With key planned operational upgrades, Kinston Regional Jetport anticipates sunny skies ahead
With passenger traffic steadily increasing for 2023, regional airports across the US have had to look at key initiatives to help capture some of this air traffic. For Kinston Regional Jetport, operational upgrades have taken off and the dynamic airport is more than ready to meet private aircraft passenger demand, as well as cargo service cargo in and out of eastern North Carolina.
Tracing its roots back over 70 years, The United States Marine Corps built Kinston Jetport in 1944 as a training airfield, however, it was closed in 1945. During the Cold War and the expansion of the Air Force, Kinston Air Base was re-created in 1950 but then closed once more by 1957.
The present air terminal opened in July 1978. The airport served as a regional facility for eastern North Carolina – but by the beginning of the 2000s commercial service was discontinued.
Around 1990, the North Carolina Economic Future Study Commission proposed creating a site that combined air cargo transport infrastructure and manufacturing facilities. Under this plan, companies would fly in unfinished goods and components to factories, complete or assemble them, then ship them away for distribution. North Carolina Governor Jim Martin (1985-1992) supported the plan and proposed the development of a $250 million site with a two-mile runway and 5,000 acres zoned for industrial development.
State leaders considered several possible locations for their vision. In May 1992, they selected the lightly-trafficked Kinston Jetport, and thus the Global TransPark was born. GTP is a 2,500-acre, multi-modal airport industrial park in the center of eastern North Carolina. Offering access to air, rail, highways, and North Carolina’s two international ports, the park has helped spur the transition of the region’s economy from agriculture to one of skilled labor and advanced manufacturing – specifically in the aerospace, defense, and logistics sectors.
“We have an 11,500 by the 150-foot runway with an ILS and AWAS and approach lighting system,” says Rick Barkes, Airport Director. “It is designed to manage just about anything that can fly. We have had a lot of larger commercial and military aircraft and we have always been able to handle everything.”
“We also have a full parallel taxiway that can handle the traffic as well. There is an FAA control tower that is operational from 6:30 am to 10:00 pm. We have had everything from Air Force One through Airbus Belugas landing. Spirit AeroSystems was even bringing in some equipment from overseas and landed an Antonov,” he elaborated.
The runway’s dimensions – it is North Carolina’s longest civilian runway – also means that military aircraft of all shapes and sizes can and do use the airport for touch-and-go as well as maintenance and training. GTP is also the Eastern North Carolina Command Center for the state’s Emergency Management Division – with traffic specifically related to emergency services using the airport as their base.
“One of our main contractors on the field is Draken International, which is a DOD-contracted training provider of tactical fighter aircraft for contract air services.” Barkes explains, “This includes airborne adversary support, Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Close Air Support, flight training, threat simulation, electronic warfare support, aerial refueling, research, and testing services. With approximately 150 jets, the company uses the largest fleet of privately owned military tactical jet aircraft in the world.”
Another key tenant is Fly Exclusive, now the second-largest on-demand charter aircraft company in the United States. The company runs maintenance operations here, employing some 730 employees. Spirit AeroSystems, a contract manufacturer of aerospace components, operates a huge facility at the park that supplies parts for Airbus 350 widebody aircraft. Crown Forklifts and West Pharmaceuticals are also key players as well as Sanderson Farms, Smithfield Foods, and Master Brands. The variety of industries that call GTP home attests to the park’s ambitious vision.
“So, having the Global TransPark here has been the catalyst of so much economic development in eastern North Carolina,” says Mark Pope, Senior Vice President of the N.C Global TransPark Economic Development Region. “Spirit AeroSystems came first and that was kind of the start and spark plug of creating economic development and job creation – it spurred a lot of growth, and a lot of attention to our surrounding counties, and what we discovered was that we all have that same vision and the same interest in creating jobs. The global aerospace industry is really in a growth position right now and we are concentrating on that segment,” Pope describes.
“If you look at it, those aerospace jobs and wages pay over two times the average wage of the counties in this region,” Pope adds. “So that’s a huge impact just on daily life. We are 75 minutes from Raleigh, and that used to pull people away from here, but now it is starting to work the other way. All of our tenants are quite community-oriented as well and the airport has become a place where people come just to watch and see what is going on.”
“In terms of operations upgrades,” adds Rick Barkes, “we just completed the rehab of the parallel taxiway, and all our pavement is now up and in pretty good shape. In terms of future expansion, we are hoping to upgrade our fuel farm and modify it so that military users can refuel here as well, and that will bring the park additional revenues, too. In the next couple of years, we hope to create more hangars and update the lighting. A lot is going on.”
Another exciting project aims to help address the current shortage of pilots and aviation mechanics. In partnership with Lenoir Community College, the Transpark is creating an Aviation Center of Excellence to allow high school students to not only learn about but prepare for careers in the industry. “We also offer what we call the aviation career camp that will provide kids a taste of what the possibilities are,” says Mark Pope. “The counties surrounding the airport have joined together with the Regional Manufacturers Association to create a presentation that looks at the different aviation careers and MROs and training opportunities that are boosting the region’s aerospace industry.”
“There has been so much happening since our inception,” Pope concludes. “We have made 18 major announcements since we opened, and we have created over 2,000 jobs with over $300 million in investment. With our wins here at GTP, our Department of Defense contractors, and everything that is happening, I think we have opened the doors for new opportunities. We’re kind of like a blank slate here. The GTP has 2500 acres and over 600 of those acres are shovel-ready. Eastern North Carolina has a lot of developable lands. GTP has a lot of developable land. I think the opportunities are kind of endless right now,” Pope says.
Airport Director Rick Barkes says the property is expanding its presence. “We have hosted the first two DND contractors and I truly think that can be a growth industry for us,” he says. “Military and Aerospace are the areas where we are expanding our presence. The good news for people around the area is that these are well-paying jobs, and that will boost our economy. We can also expand cargo operations and maintenance, Barkes says. “There are a lot of possibilities moving forward.”
AT A GLANCE
Kinston Regional Jetport (ISO)
WHAT: A Regional Airport with a large industrial/transportation park attached.
WHERE: three miles northwest of Kinston, a city in Lenoir County, North Carolina
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