Airports ‘severely underused’

Published 11:06 pm Thursday, August 22, 2013

William “Bill” Coburn, a new appointee to the Virginia Aviation Board from Carrollton, sits in his beloved Grumman Tiger. Coburn says small airports can be potent economic drivers for local economies.

William “Bill” Coburn, a new appointee to the Virginia Aviation Board from Carrollton, sits in his beloved Grumman Tiger. Coburn says small airports can be potent economic drivers for local economies.

Governor’s appointee pushes potential of smaller airports

A Carrollton man newly appointed to the Virginia Aviation Board believes local and regional airports have more potential to become economic drivers for local economies.

William E. “Bill” Coburn said he would like to use his four-year term, announced by Gov. Bob McDonnell Aug. 16, to “promote aviation and airports as drivers of economic development throughout the region.”

Coburn said improvements in airports to spur greater use could generate more business activity and jobs.

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Hampton Roads Executive Airport, just across the Suffolk-Chesapeake line on U.S. Route 58, is undergoing improvements that Coburn as a board member said he would “like to oversee and make sure (are) completed.”

Upgrades at the airport, which Coburn uses for his own plane, include a new 5,000-foot runway and instrument landing system, which guides safe approaches and landings in poor conditions.

According to the airport’s website, the new runway alone involves a $30-million investment, factoring land acquisition, environmental design and construction.

It will handle small jets, Coburn said, adding the airport is already getting good use by charter operations but also has potential for air taxis.

“Other smaller regional airports could be reliever or feeder airports for other large airports,” Coburn said.

“Hampton Roads Executive Airport is being used as a larger reliever airport for all Hampton Roads. It’s a great location next to (Interstate) 664.”

Coburn also pointed to a runway extension and other improvements at Suffolk Executive Airport as examples of forward thinking.

“The airports are generally underused,” he said. “Franklin airport is severely underused. We can do a lot of things with aviation and airport development and help our communities and promote jobs growth.”

Coburn retired in 2007 from a 30-year Air Force career, during which he was mostly an intelligence officer, and now works as a systems analyst for Northrop Grumman in Newport News.

He volunteers at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach and says he always looks for excuses to take to the skies in his cherished Grumman Tiger.

“My dad actually took me up when I was a very young child,” said Coburn, who began flying solo at age 17 and has logged around 800 hours, including as an Angel Flight pilot.