Delaware AirPark celebrates new runway opening

High altitude view of Delaware Airpark with the new runway superimposed on the photo to show where it is now located in relationship to the old runway which will become a taxiway. The new runway is approximately 500 feet longer than the old one. Photo Courtesy of the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

CHESWOLD —Cheswold International Airport?

Not any time soon, but some day perhaps.

For now, the $33 million project to improve the Delaware AirPark for the next 50 years is uplifting enough.

The local aviation community joined with local, state and federal officials Monday morning to celebrate the official opening of Runway 9-27, which was completed last month.

Construction of the new runway, taxiway, and apron system commenced in 2004 and is scheduled to conclude next summer.

The so-called “Field of Dreams” has continued to expand its horizons and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., floated the possibility of it hosting international flight sometime decades from now.

Monday’s ribbon cutting served as a time to pay tribute to the visionaries who established the airport and Delaware State University’s acclaimed aviation studies program that supplies trained pilots for a profession in dire need of qualified applicants.

“We need airline pilots,” Sen. Carper said. “We need them to fly us around the friendly skies of our country and not so friendly skies of the world.”

Delaware’s congressional delegation Senators Tom Carper (3rd from left}, Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, join with representatives from Delaware State University and the Delaware River and Bay Authority in ribbon cutting ceremony on the new runway at Delaware Airpark. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DSU senior Daeshawn Rose, who has a pilot’s license and job lined up with Salisbury, Maryland-headquartered Piedmont Airlines upon graduation, lauded every part of his training at the AirPark the past three years-plus.

“You start flying as a freshman and then keep qualifying and training for (private pilot license, instrument rating, commercial license, multi-engine and certified flight instructor,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., referenced Wilbur Wright’s quote “It is possible to fly without motors but not without knowledge and skill” and tied it to DSU’s program.

“I see jobs, careers and smooth career paths to prosperity for the young men and women of DSU,” he said.

Outgoing DSU President Dr. Harry L. Williams noted the significance of the upgrades.

“Our DSU aviation students have already benefited greatly from the improvements at Delaware Airpark, especially the longer runway which helped to mitigate a power line obstacle students have had to overcome in landing and take-off,” he said.

“As the university continues to produce professional pilots whose proficiencies have resulted in a 100 percent hiring rate, DSU, the Delaware River & Bay Authority, the Delaware Congressional delegation and the federal government can all share in the credit for helping in its success.”

The improvements bring the AirPark into Federal Aviation Administration design standards, which increases its capacity to attract business and maintain high paying, high quality jobs for aviators and those who maintain aircraft.

According to Lori Pagnanelli, FAA Harrisburg Airports District manager, only one other regional upgrade can match the progress made at the AirPark in the past 10 years.

Sen. Carper went further describing it as “one of the most significant aviation projects in Delaware and in the region in over 40 years.”

Dream takes flight

Somewhere way up above and beyond the clouds Floyd Durham must have been smiling — he started “Little Acres Airport” in 1954 and eventually sold the land and facility to the State of Delaware in what became the Delaware AirPark.

The late Mr. Durham’s children Harlan and Muriel were guests of honor at the ribbon cutting and remembered fondly growing up at their father’s airport.

His dream was always to provide services benefiting pilots and their community, they said.

“None of what he did was ever with making money in mind,” said Muriel, whose dad was an inaugural member of the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame inductee class in 2000.

“He had offers to sell the land for a lot more than what he eventually did. His main concern was keeping an airport here.”

His son Harlan reasoned, “He probably would have been amazed with all the changes that have come about here. He might not have agreed with all the moves but the airport’s growth has probably been exceeded beyond his wildest imagination.”

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., pointed to Delaware’s aviation industry that creates $600 million in economic impact and provides 2,600 jobs or more statewide. Preserving the heritage and expanding the reach of the AirPark and others like it is a nonpartisan concern for all in the First State, she stressed.

“This new runway and taxi system will help accommodate the aviation needs of central Delaware including increasing capacity for important programs such as the Delaware State University Aviation program.

“I am proud to be able to unveil this project alongside folks who worked so hard to make it a reality.”

Delaware River and Bay Authority Executive Director Thomas Cook opened the proceedings with remarks and believes

“The importance of this new runway system can’t be understated and it took the cooperation of federal, state and local leaders who all recognized general aviation’s important role in our region’s economy to get the job done.

“These improvements are essential for the future of Delaware AirPark, and the critical air access it provides to central Delaware and the greater Capital region of our state.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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