HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) -- Pending clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, a nearly $6 million project at Hagerstown Regional Airport soon will bring brand-new amenities to general aviation pilots and passengers.
Rider Jet Center, a fixed-base operator (FBO) at the airport since 2003, has overgrown its existing 3,000-square-foot facility and needs more space, owner David Rider said Oct. 16.
"If we're going to stay in business for the next 50 years, we need to expand," he said.
An FBO is similar to a gas station and rest stop for airplanes. The family-owned operation provides a base for nearly $200 million worth of aircraft and regularly hosts numerous corporate clients.
Plans call for a modern two-story FBO with about 25,000 square feet of space, which will be built next to its existing building off Henson Boulevard. It will include expanded services for pilots and passengers, including fueling, an inviting lobby area, and larger weather-monitoring rooms and resting rooms.
The FBO serves as the gateway to the airport for local aviators and new visitors, and great customer service is paramount to Rider Jet Center's business model, airport Director Phil Ridenour said.
"They're literally greeted with a red carpet," Ridenour said. "They roll out the red carpet for them, and they have a beautiful facility that they go into over there for pilots and their clients.
"It's the face of the airport for folks who haven't ever been to our airport before. We're really excited to have this project get under way. It's been in the works for quite some time."
Rider said he's hoping to begin construction before the end of the year, but it might get pushed back to early 2014 depending how long it takes the FAA to approve a lease agreement with the county. Construction is expected to be completed sometime next year.
The jet center will lease additional land from the county to build the new building, which then will be owned by the county. The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 15 voted 4-0 to approve the lease agreement with Rider Jet Center, contingent upon federal review.
The initial lease term is for seven years, with four seven-year and one four-year renewal options, Ridenour said. Rider Jet Center would pay the county about $12,754 annually under the lease, which includes 2 percent increases every year over the term of the agreement.
The building will be a great improvement over Rider's current facility, which was built onto the front of an existing aircraft hangar.
In addition to a lack of space, Rider said limited water service, no fire-suppression systems and a lack of available high-speed Internet also played into the company's decision to expand.
Along with a large covered area on the airfield side for planes to load and unload passengers, public water and sewer, natural gas and high-speed Internet all will be available in the new FBO.
"In order to grow, this is what we need," said Rider, a local resident and pilot who has flown out of the airport since 1967. "This is what (the airport) needs" to grow.
Also part of the construction plans are a new independently operated restaurant that would be open to the public and aviation community alike.
County liquor officials on Oct. 16 approved a D license for Rider Jet Center, also contingent on approval of a lease agreement by the FAA.
The D license, approved unanimously by the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, would allow Rider Jet to serve alcohol and food in a cafe that would operate as a limited liability corporation, according to Kent Oliver, an attorney representing Rider.
The license also would allow Rider to provide catering services, including alcoholic beverages, for general aviation and corporate flights.
"It will be a nice amenity for the airport," Rider said after the meeting with liquor officials.
Rider stressed that all construction will be privately financed, pushing his overall investment in the airport over the past 11 years to more than $30 million.
Through fuel sales alone, Rider Jet Center has generated nearly $1.4 million in taxes to the county from 2003 through 2012. Another $161,500 is projected for 2013, or about five times the amount generated in 2002 before Rider took over 99 percent of all fuel sales on the airfield, according to fuel sales data.
Rider Jet Center also has privately funded several other projects on the airfield, including a $6.3 million office building in 2010 and several hangar construction and improvement projects, all of which are occupied, Ridenour said.
"Mr. Rider and his whole crew over there have been a great asset to the airport," Ridenour said. "They have helped develop the airport."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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