Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I dropped in at the Suffolk Executive Airport for breakfast and had a visit with Larry Pennington and others to learn more about what goes on, or doesn’t go on, at our huge chunk of territory. Larry – of Skydive Suffolk – has two planes he uses in his business and would like to expand his physical facilities. He aims to hang around Suffolk but would like to have what he calls a more professional footprint at the airport. I believe he is ready to invest serious money to attain that distinction. He awaits only the go-ahead. We talked about a lot of things. You have to meet this guy to see what a fit human being can look like. His muscles have muscles, but he is friendly as a teddy bear. You get the feeling that if both his plane and his parachute should fail he would still find a safe way down.

Larry admits that it costs him about $26,000 annually to keep his planes in top condition but can’t have them serviced at our airport. Larry swears he can’t even get a tired fixed there, so he spends his money at other airports for servicing… at about $700 per hour. He hopes one day he can spend it at the Suffolk Executive Airport. In fact, I’m told that more than one servicing outfit is ready to move to Suffolk if space was available.

It appears that we have all but lost the display portion of the Fighter Factory. Virginia Beach was wise enough to offer a museum at the Pungo Airport. They figure they can supply more dollar-bearing tourists at the Beach. If we move quickly enough we can still retain the hangers, men and tools where they actually restore the old warplanes. Even that would make a great attraction if properly promoted and parking facilities provided. I am thrilled just to stand there and watch them work to bring the birds back to life. They begin with wings and jumbled boxes of soiled parts and somehow put them together freshly painted. One old A 26 bomber fascinates me. I swear I saw overhead in France in 1944.

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Judging by my conversations with several people in many airport roles, I came away feeling that the place is about to burst its seams. Expectancy seems to be floating around in the air. Kent Marshall, airport manager, insists I won’t recognize the place a year from now. I watched a plane fly in from Norfolk on his way to Martinsburg. He landed just to get fuel for the flight. Hopefully we can keep the fuel price at a level that will continue to coax planes out of the sky. There is sufficient runway length, two working and another possible, a neat caf for eats, and a staff of competent people waiting for action. The trees at the end of runways have been sheared for safety, and it’s way past time to kick the airport into fast gear. The decision makers are gathering and hopefully it is not too late.

It is well known that the Norfolk International Airport is headed for eventual extinction because it is hemmed in by the city. The facility will need much more room for expansion and they can’t find it there. So it will look west, already is and the current Norfolk airport will become merely a city airport. Perhaps even the Suffolk airport will be unable to acquire sufficient land to become an international airport, but it will be close to one that is in the early planning stages. We very much need the eastern Suffolk bypass to provide easy access to the airport from the east and many hope it goes back into the plan soon.

When you look across to the airport from Carolina Road you wonder why there is not more activity out there. Is it just money holding growth back? Our city officials seem to find funds for many other ventures, hotel for example. We’re told we have funds piled up and our credit rating is tops. Anxious people, holding their breath want to know when the powers that be will start the airport engine and pull the chocks from under the wheels.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail: