Rocking chairs are set up on a porch at Beaufort Executive Airport, where pilots or anyone in the public can sit and watch the planes come and go.
“A lot of people don’t know it’s here,” says Jonathan Rembold, Beaufort County Airports Manager, Lady’s Island small public airport.
The anonymity of the slow landing strip is changing rapidly. In the past nine months alone, the airport has tracked 6,000 non-local users of its 34,000-foot runway alone for business and pleasure. Some of those who passed by were first coming to the Lowcountry and chose to put down roots based on what they saw.
The remote airport in northern Beaufort County is used by professional athletes and celebrities trying to avoid the spotlight, fishermen and hunters, amateur pilots and businessmen and doctors who fly instead. than driving to make sales calls or perform surgery.
The discovery of the airstrip by pilots from outside the Lowcountry was no accident.
South Carolina is a good place to refuel for pilots flying from New England to Florida. A year ago, airport officials decided to see if a reduction in the price of fuel would get their attention. It made. Fuel sales doubled, a clear indication that more pilots were landing in Beaufort County.
Additionally, in November, the airport began marketing the facility as the Beaufort Executive Airport, with the “county” being abandoned to attract more business travelers. Locals have long known the airport as Frogmore Intranational.
In addition to these two changes, the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, and airport officials say this has also increased usage, with more people flying their own planes or chartering them rather than fly commercial.
One day this week, Paul Dolin, airport supervisor off Sea Island Parkway across from Walmart, sped down the runway in a four-wheeled cart, pointing out its features, including 34 full hangars. 13 other planes are parked outside on the runway. There are 50 people on a hangar waiting list.
“If I could build 50 hangars tomorrow, I would fill 50 hangars tomorrow,” Dolin says.
Dolin is the airport’s only full-time employee, supervising three part-time employees. Beaufort Executive is one of two airports operated by Beaufort County. While the Hilton Head Airport offers commercial flights, the 110-acre Beaufort Executive is a general aviation airport providing aircraft maintenance and refueling for small planes used for recreational or commercial purposes.
Executive Flight Training, a flight school, is based here. And the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has a hangar here where they guard law enforcement planes, as does mosquito control. Deputy Airport Manager Steve Parry notes that airport officials sometimes receive complaints about low-flying planes. More often than not, he says, it’s a plane spraying mosquitoes, which turns complaints into cheers.
“It happened very quickly by word of mouth,” Rembold said of the increased use of Beaufort Executive.
He also attributes the rise to top-notch customer service. Airport workers, for example, send pilots and passengers to local restaurants, hoping they will enjoy Beaufort as much as possible during their brief stays.
“We don’t have a charge to be a janitor, but that’s what we do,” Rembold said.
Plans are in place to beautify the lobby so that tourists have a better first impression.
Over the next 30 days, $ 80,000 will be spent to renovate the terminal lobby using hospitality tax funds. The airport was built in the 1950s and the land was once part of the Eustis cotton plantation.
“We want it to look pretty so that people have a nice place to come in and out when they visit,” Parry said.
These upgrades will follow a $ 1 million upgrade to the airport’s runway lights in 2019. They were damaged in flooding from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. A grant from the FAA covered the cost of the work.
It is not uncommon to see celebrities or professional athletes at the local airport. PGA golfers, for example, use it to reach the area before and after the RBC Heritage tournament at Hilton Head. Golfers playing at Secession Golf Club in Beaufort sometimes arrive as well. Parry, however, would not name names.
“I can imagine for them it’s a lovely getaway,” Parry said.
Doors open, 5K race planned
Beaufort Executive Airport, located at 39 Airport Circle on Lady’s Island, will host a 5K and Open House on Saturday, October 9.
The open house will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will include a reception tent with exhibitors, aircraft displays on the tarmac and a vintage WWII aircraft.
The Run the Runway 5K for runners and walkers begins at 7:30 am Register for the race at www.beaufortcountyairport.com or call 843-962-2142.