One federal fund might help solve a problem for a tiny, regional airfield near the North Carolina coast as it presents a conundrum for smaller airports.
For more than a decade, Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern has been quietly serving both Delta Airlines and American Airlines, says its director, Andy Shorter. And it’s doing it from a 40,000-square-foot terminal.
Small jets, many of them 50-seaters, land at the airport, taking eastern North Carolinians on quick trips to Charlotte and Atlanta where they can then connect to destinations throughout the globe.
But, according to Joe Esposito, senior vice president of network planning at Delta airline, there is a moving to larger jets.
According to Esposito, while Delta used to have 500 of its 50-seaters, it’s now down to 120 “and shrinking.”
“Even the small airplanes are getting bigger,” he says. “Bigger means more space… By expanding the apron, we can basically have enough space for them.”
To attract more growth, investments are essential, he says. He envisions a Coastal Carolina that can one day fly nonstop to other hubs such as Chicago and Washington, D.C.
At this moment, 70% of the airport’s traffic is general aviation, with commercial traffic from Delta and American accounting for the other 3%. The airport sees “about a quarter-million commercial passengers” each year, and just over 40,000 operations.
State funds are already being used for general aviation projects, such as new hangar space that could lure more companies to eastern North Carolina.
“We like to say we really have all the bases covered,” he says. Still, even with the investments that are coming, he sees big challenges ahead in growing commercial operations. The big barrier is the pilot shortage, he says.
But instead of waiting for the problem to correct itself, his team is investing in its future, hopeful that the growth will follow.