Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport
Flying into a great future
Up on some of the highest land in Jasper County, South Carolina, you will find the quaint town of Ridgeland, tracing its history back to the coming of the railroad in 1902. Today you can find it along Interstate 95 or fly into the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport.
Tracing its history back to 1938 and a 69-acre parcel of land in which a small group of aviation enthusiasts convinced a friendly farmer to let them convert into an airfield, it would not be until World War Two that the county decided to construct an airport. With the help of the State of South Carolina, a paved and lighted 3,000 by 70-foot runway was built in 1960. In 2015, the name was changed to the Ridgeland -Claude Dean Airport in honor of World War II veteran and its long-time airport manager Claude Dean.
This brings us to the present when the airport has been through a period of unprecedented growth and continues to modernize as it becomes the Lowcountry’s connection to the entire Eastern Seaboard. A statewide survey estimated that the annual impact of Ridgeland-Claude Dean was $425,600 in 2006 while it had jumped to $8.3 million according to 2018 records.
“The original airport had a 2172-foot runway with no taxi lanes,” says Danny Lucas, Director of Development Services for Jasper County, and acting Airport Manager. “Since then, we have been dealing with obstructions and land issues – everything from telephone poles to a school built right next door and a 35-foot drop-off on the other edge. So, there were a number of built-in hazards. In 2014 the county decided to get serious about the airport and after consulting with engineers and looking at other locations, they decided to expand the current airport.”
“At the time we had 70 acres, one runway, and 42 privately owned hangars. The county acquired approximately 215 additional acres along with about 50 navigation easements and then constructed the new runway and a parallel taxiway. The new runway is now 4200 feet long with a width of 75 feet with a parallel taxiway. This all happened when the airport became part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, which opened us up to new funding, allowing the $23.3 million project to be completed.” Lucas adds.
This was the beginning of a multiphase project that is ongoing. Phase one was the purchase of 215 acres and 50 navigation easements. Phase two was the clearing, grading, leveling, and filling required to make room for the new runway and facilities. Phase three was the installation of the airport lighting system and PAPI and runway lights along with some drainage correction and minor paving improvements. Phase four was the opening of runway 1836 and the parallel taxiway along with the construction of a 32-stall overnight parking lot as well as a new 84,000-square-foot ramp.
“Phase Five, which is currently underway, will be the construction of the new terminal/FBO building,” Lucas explains, “We began with the opening of a temporary 3600 square foot terminal/FBO building this past June. This space includes airport operations as well as the passenger waiting area, pilots lounge, shower facility, computer facilities, and restrooms.”
“Back in October of 2020, the county created Sky Blue Aviation to serve as their FBO at the airport, and ever since then, we have been preparing to sell fuel here at Ridgeland-Claude Dean. Well, as of last week we began to sell Avgas as well as Jet Fuel. We have a 1200-gallon Avgas truck, and we have a 3000 5,000-gallon Jet Fuel truck. We have now funded a new AWAS weather system and we hope to have it operational in late February of 2023, although it is very difficult to predict with supply chain and labor shortages,” Lucas describes.
“Then we will see the installation of an instrument approach so right after the AWAS system is up and running then the FAA will come in and install an RNAV GPS instrument approach for runway 1836. We are also going to be constructing a new 84,000-square-foot ramp to attach to the current 84,000-square-foot ramp. Construction on that will start in December. And we have also commissioned the construction of a new fuel farm that will include a 12,000-gallon add gas tank which would also be self-serve. We’re being told, unfortunately, that it’s taking anywhere from 42 to 48 months to construct the fuel tanks.”
As with most airports, Ridgeland-Claude Dean relies on the FAA as an integral part of its capital improvement funding. They are paying for 90% of the land purchase as well as 90% of the cost of construction for the new runway and taxiway for example. The funding for the terminal building is coming largely from the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission which has allocated $500,000 towards the project.
“The new building will be a 7700 square foot two-story building,” says Lucas, “the last project for phase five will be the construction of a twelve-unit T Hangar complex and of course, the funding for that will be all borne by Jasper County. Then, phase six will be a 1200-foot runway extension,” Lucas outlines.
“We requested this two weeks after we opened the new runway, but the FAA wants us to prove that we have the amount of turbine traffic that would justify the extension. We do document as much as we can the arrivals and departures of the turboprops and the jet traffic course the turboprops are satisfied in their entirety by our current 4200-foot runway as well as all the light jet fleets – but as soon as you are getting midsize jets they have to come in light and leave light. A 1200-foot extension would give us more flexibility for bringing in larger aircraft and safety in different weather conditions.” Lucas elaborates.
Lucas is also quick to highlight another valued partnership that he identifies as being key to the airports’ continued success and growth; JCL Aviation Services. A full-service independent aviation insurance agency and consulting company that specialize in serving general aviation operations and businesses, JCL has collaborated with the city and the airport to aid in the continued work to meet future challenges with ease. The company has clearly indicated that it is proud to collaborate in efforts to maximize the potential of the airport while keeping strong links to the city.
When you look at the Lowcountry region, the different counties, and the southern portion of South Carolina there are over 600,000 residents. As a professional airport, there is so much opportunity, and that opportunity comes with the reward of economic development for the region at the same time. It is truly a win/win scenario.
“I have to say I am excited by the upgrades,” Lucas concludes, “and I’ve taken great pleasure in being instrumental to a lot of what is moving forward here. There have been some impediments and hurdles to overcome but let me just say that this whole professional approach to the airport and expansion of the airport has also been driven by the fact that as of 2017 we have a World Class course only nine minutes away, Congaree Golf Club, and that now generates about 80% of our turbine traffic.
Lucas concludes, “Now that we are selling fuel, I expect that our operations will increase substantially. I would also like to point out that the whole reason why the county and the FAA and the state of South Carolina went to the extent of investing, so far, $23 million with another $6 million to go – the only reason why they have done that is economic development. Our growth brings economic development and expands the capabilities of the Lowcountry for the flying public.”
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AT A GLANCE
Ridgeland Claude-Dean Airport
What: Regional airport with military roots
Where: Jasper County, South Carolina