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Suffolk Executive Airport receives grant for improved security

Suffolk City Council, at its Nov. 15 meeting, approved an ordinance to accept a grant of more than $11,000 for security improvements at the Suffolk Executive Airport.

The State Homeland Security Program Grant award of $11,627 came from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and will be used to purchase and install two high-resolution video surveillance cameras.

The cameras, which have adjustable zoom and other high-tech features, will cover the northeast and northwest portions of the airport, including the main taxiways and fuel farm, said Kent Marshall, airport manager. They have 24-hour digital recording capabilities so airport officials can track the number of take-offs and landings each day and who enters and leaves the airport, among other things. Eventually, the cameras could be hooked up so that their feed can run to Suffolk Police Department monitors, he said.

The two existing cameras will be moved to the rotating beacon tower to cover the southeast and southwest portions of the airport, covering the parking lot and entrance ramp.

The new equipment, together with the existing cameras, will provide 360-degree coverage of the airport runways.

“It’s going to double our visual security,” Marshall said.

Charles Meek, senior administrative analyst for the city, said the cameras should be installed by the first of the year.

The Department of Emergency Management receives funds from the Department of Homeland Security to be awarded to localities throughout the commonwealth on a yearly basis. The amount awarded is derived from a formula based on the size of the facility, Meek said.

The city also received funding that can be used for police, fire, and rescue departments to enhance safety throughout the city. The money can be used toward equipment and/or training, he said. Previous uses of grant money include the purchase of Hazmat equipment for first responders.

Marshall said the purchase of the new cameras is the first of many steps in the airport’s security plan. They also currently are in the process of acquiring funding from the Department of Aviation for new fencing around the area. The project, which could extend over 10 years, would include filling in gaps and increasing the height of the fence, Marshall said.

Another plan calls for increased lighting throughout the ramp and hangar areas, and installation of a new entry code system for the gate to the main operating area, he said.

One major project that has been underway for several years is the upgrading of one runway to a “C-2,” or one that can handle larger aircraft, Marshall said. The design is finished and the construction went to bid, but the proposal came in above the amount of federal funding allotted for the project. Marshall said he is hoping to receive $6.5 million for the project, for which construction could begin in spring 2008. The project is 95 percent funded through federal dollars, with 3 percent state and only 2 percent local.

The Suffolk Executive Airport, 1200 Gene Bolton Drive, saw just under 2,000 take-offs and landings in the last year, Marshall said, with between 108-118 aircraft on-site, 58 T-hangars and four privately-owned hangars. It is classified as a general aviation facility that caters to recreation and private pilots, as well as corporate jets.

The airport is home to Skydive Suffolk, a company that offers parachuting, is available to Nightingale emergency response helicopters and is an Angel Flight facility. Angel Flight is a program where private pilots use their aircraft to transport people who are ill and could not otherwise afford to travel to and from treatment.

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com