Air freight across the Upstate is an expanding market, and the Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport is planning to capitalize on that expansion.
The Downtown Airport – the oldest and first commercial airport in South Carolina – recently added a $40 million expansion, including 650 feet of new runway space. The next step on the airport’s horizon is expanding hangars, which compliments the runway expansion’s effort to get larger planes to utilize the airport.
“What that allows is us to get much bigger aircraft in here. They don’t have to go somewhere else to refuel and take off again. Bigger planes can carry cargo or refuel. With that comes all the latest and greatest in technology and equipment,” said Airport Director Terry Connorton. “Not only are they bringing the airplanes in here, it creates jobs. They’re going to buy fuel; they’re going to use local resources. It’s a great benefit to have larger hangars here.”
The hangars will come in two varieties: “small-t” hangars for private plane owners, and larger hangars that will boost economic development efforts of local manufacturers and other industrial businesses.
“When you build one block of hangars, the rest follow quickly because you’ve got a recipe for how to do it,” Connorton said. “Airplanes need services – electronics, upholstery, all the services that go along with it.”
The cargo and air freight capabilities of Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport has continually grown in recent years. GSP added a $30 million cargo facility – with a 110,000 square foot warehouse and 13-acre cargo ramp that can handle three Boeing 747-800 planes at the same time.
Between 2016 and 2017, the cargo numbers at GSP increased 39 percent, good for a jump from 84 to 72 on the Federal Aviation Administration’s airport cargo rankings data. In fiscal year 2018, the airport district’s Cerulean Aviation supported more than 1,200 cargo flights.
Last summer, Senator International added weekly cargo flights to Mexico, further bolstering GSP’s cargo credibility.
Aviation comes with its own supply chain, making the Downtown Airport a natural partner for Spartanburg County’s thriving manufacturing sector. Connorton said from pilots to planes, services to parts to mechanics, the entire process of loading a plane and flying it to a destination mirrors logistics and manufacturing.
“We can provide a way for local businesses to utilize the airport to bring in the products they need for manufacturing,” he said. “Maybe their trucking staff, it’s thousands of miles to be here on a truck. Maybe they find they can get equipment here pretty quickly. Manufacturing requires just-in-time inventory, and it gets it there.”
Connorton – a pilot since 1989 and Airport Director for a little more than a year – said the airport has seen an increase in corporate jets coming for foreign officials to tour local facilities.
“We’re very convenient for those companies that come in here for quick trips to come in and see how the local facilities are operating,” he said.
Along with physical growth, the Downtown Airport is expanding its relationship with the surrounding community to showcase its history and define its legacy.
The airport has partnered with the Spartanburg Science Center to establish a new program aimed at students age 16-20 with interest in aviation. The Spartanburg Community Aviation Program is made up of students from Dorman and Spartanburg high schools, Spartanburg Christian School, Spartanburg Day School, and more.
“They experience all different aspects of aviation whether that’s changing oil in the airplane, flying a powered aircraft, signaling air control, flying a flight simulator…by the time that’s happened, they have good experience on getting involved with physical aviation,” Connorton said.
The Downtown Airport still occasionally battles an awareness problem, as some still don’t know there’s a growing airport in Downtown Spartanburg. The Airport Park – popular with families, featuring aviation-themed jungle gyms, swingsets and a splash pad – has been a hit since it opened more than a year ago.
“I think we’re a hidden gem out here,” he said. “The better we do with that, the better we’ll do in all three aspects: celebrating the history, recognizing the present, and obviously we’ll have to get to the future.”