The Middlesboro-Bell County Airport is back open for business following a rehabilitation project funded by the Kentucky Department of Aviation.
“Today is the first day that the runway has been open in approximately three weeks,” airport board chairman Glynna Brown explained. “We’ve been closed due to runway rehab that the state has funded for us because the pavement on the runway was deteriorating and the state decided that we needed a new runway overlay and paving and we were so glad to have received that money.”
The first flight to be recorded out of the Middlesboro-Bell County Airport was in but the Airport Board was not established until later in the 1940’s and according to Brown it has been well over twenty years since the runway has seen that type of rehabilitation.
“The state has a company that goes around and does assessments of all the runway areas in the state and Middlesboro-Bell County was on the list that needed rehabilitation,” she continued. “Every airport has to be inspected and the inspector will grade those runways and every year money will be distributed to the airports needing the most work done.”
The big airports such as Lexington, Frankfort, and Louisville typically get the biggest portion of the money because of the larger air traffic that comes through and the rest of the money is then divided between the smaller airports that need work done based on their grade given to them by the inspector from the Kentucky Department of Aviation.
“There are about 59 airports in Kentucky,” Brown stated. “About four years ago, they told us that we were going to be put on the list to be upgraded but the money went to airports that were in worse condition than we were.”
The Middlesboro-Bell County Airport was notified only a few months ago that the work was going to be conducted on the runway.
“We were told that we were eligible and that the money was available,” John Brown, airport board member said. “They said that it had to be done on a certain time schedule and it had to be bid out and it had to be surveyed because they wanted it to be done before the end of the season.”
There are approximately 35 to 40 airplanes that are based at the Middlesboro-Bell County Airport regularly. Along with the airplanes based there regularly, there are 30 more businesses that use the airport on a semi-regular basis, which, according to Brown is why the upgrades were needed. Although the airport is considered a small airport, the number of airplanes based there is a lot for an airport of their size.
“For example, Harlan only has three airplanes stationed there on a regular basis,” John explained. “ Most people don’t know this but this is a pretty active airport.”
Glynna agreed and also added that along with the 40 planes that are based there regularly, they also see a variety of visitors come through the airport.
“A lot of people that fly want to stop here rather than a place like Knoxville because Knoxville is busy and they’ve got jet traffic and a lot of people don’t like to go to the large airports and here, we are just convenient,” John said in agreement. “Believe it or not we get a lot of transient traffic like someone going from Detroit to Florida will stop here for fuel to avoid the traffic at larger airports.”
Glynna pointed out that the airport facilities are cleaned and sanitized daily by staff to ensure a healthy atmosphere for those visiting and the Middlesboro-Bell County Airport also offers fuel at a reasonable price for those traveling. Just last October the airport celebrated the expansion of their second floor addition, a project that was ten years in the making. The expansion was also completed through funding from the Kentucky Department of Aviation which includes a lobby, office, conference room, a pilots resting room, full restroom with shower and a full kitchenette for traveling pilots.
“We want the community to know that we are back open for business and you can see your federal dollars are at work right here,” Glynna said. “The Kentucky Department of Aviation really takes care of us and we want to thank them.”
The Middlesboro-Bell County Airport Terminal Lobby is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be contacted by calling 242-3134.