Chilton County Airport keeping up with the times
Gragg-Wade Field at the Chilton County Airport turned 75 this past Fourth of July holiday. While there was a celebration of the airport’s history, those close to it are even more excited about its future.
“We’ve got a couple of big projects planned,” said Craig Cleckler of the Chilton County Airport Authority.
For starters, the airport has secured grant funding to remove and replace a deteriorating pipe under the west end of the runway. The current pipe, which has been in place for close to 50 years, will be replaced by a state-of-the-art cement-reinforced one.
Cleckler said there were even more renovations coming.
“Next year, we look to have the whole runway repaved,” he said. “It’s an over a million dollar project. We also hope to install a new runway lighting system. Then, state-of-the-art approach lights and rotating beacon tower.”
The funding for each of the projects comes from grant money supplied by the FAA and ALDOT; each year, the FAA gives out $150,000 in entitlement money to carry out projects like these.
Even after the upgrades, the airport authority hopes for further improvements to the facilities, such as extending the runway to accommodate more aircraft, such as company planes.
“Our airport runway is 4,800 feet, which is too short for some commercial [business] planes,” he said. “Some of their insurance [companies] require 5,000 foot runways to land.”
Cleckler said the ultimate goal was to become a regional airport, which essentially designates what kind of traffic the field can handle.
If you’re hoping to catch an airliner out of Clanton, don’t hold your breath; Cleckler said that while expansion will mean more business opportunities locally, Gragg-Wade will not be able to sustain large aircraft.
“It will not house commercial airlines,” he said, “but it could house commercial hangars and may charter small flights.”
While it may never have the size of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International, or even Dannelly in Montgomery, Cleckler said the improvements will make a big impact, more likely sooner-than-later.
“I would like to see [the improvements] soon, but it’s a matter of FAA grants,” he said. “It’s a multistep process. I’d like to see it in the next five years.”