By LINDELL JOHN KAY – Rocky Mount Telegram
Business is taking off at the Rocky Mount–Wilson Regional Airport.
Considered the “Jewel of Rocky Mount” by business travelers and pilots, the local airport supports 120 jobs — directly, indirectly or induced — that amount to a total annual payroll of $5.3 million. The airport also lands an annual total of $25.6 million in economic activity for Nash County, according to a 2016 report of North Carolina airports.
“We think it’s actually four times that number,” said Airport Director Dion Viventi, who took the controls at the airport in August.
A Rutgers University graduate, civil engineer, officer in the N.C. Civil Air Patrol, multi-engine commercial pilot, husband and father of four young children, Viventi is turning the airport around with the help of a dedicated crew.
The airport will be including a marketing plan with its Strategic Master Plan later this year.
“The first airport in North Carolina to do that,” Viventi said.
Viventi is planning an airshow for October — “when the weather is still warm, but not so so brutal” — and an open house next spring.
“We want everyone to know what we’ve got going on out here,” Viventi said.
Built in 1969, the 504-acre airport, which once ran commercial flights during the heyday of regulated airlines, is mostly forgotten today, except by the business and industry leaders that use the 7,100-foot runway on a daily basis.
Frequent fliers include Stallings Eagle Transport and Barnhill Contractors. Regular users include CSX, BB&T, Cummins Engines, Keihen Carolina, PNC Bank, Walmart and the state and federal governments.
The airport has 16 aircraft based on the field including jets, helicopters and single-engine and multi-engine planes. The airport averages 82 operations a day with 65 percent being transient general aviation, 29 percent local general aviation, 4 percent air taxi and 2 percent military.
The comfortable and spacious terminal looks more like the lobby of a posh hotel than the sterile environment at most airports. The building also houses a pilot’s briefing room, lounge and crew rest areas. And a car rental kiosk and hotel shuttle service make trips easy.
While the airport doesn’t have a tower, it boasts a very reliable and accurate weather system operated and maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration, including a computer-generated voice message that is broadcast via radio frequency to pilots in the vicinity of an airport or by telephone anywhere. The system also provides up-to-the-minute weather information to pilots and to the FAA for national dissemination via computer.
The airport is manned by air rescue firefighters ready to respond to hazard mitigation, evacuation and possible rescue of passengers and crew of an aircraft involved in an airport ground emergency.
Also based at the airport are the air ambulance services Metro Aviation for Vidant-East Care and Air Methods-Wake Med. The Civil Air Patrol-Tar River Composite Squadron also is based at the airport.
Beside bringing big business to Nash County, the airport also helps in providing search and rescue and disaster relief, cadet programs, orientation flights, aerospace education and STEM resources.
The airport’s operating budget for fiscal year 2016 was a $7 million net position and $6.9 million in total capital assets.