SALISBURY — Wicomico County officials last week approved a conditional $500,000 loan to the Salisbury-Ocean City-Wicomico Regional Airport for improvements and upgrades to hangars in an effort to help ensure the facility continues to be a major transportation hub on the Lower Shore and possibly even expand its presence.
“The complex was built some time ago and it is in need of leak-proofing the roof, windows and doors and repainting,” Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said. “They are asking for a conditional loan to complete the work, which will help ensure Piedmont stays. Essentially, the county will act as a pass-through for the loan.”
The loan is conditional in the sense its status is tied directly to the number of jobs the airport creates and retains. The loan could be converted to a grant if the established thresholds are met, or it could be paid back in full if the airport fails to meet the stated employment numbers and other milestones.
For Wicomico officials, the safeguards proved to be worth the investment in the airport, if only to retain Piedmont. If the improvements aren’t made, Piedmont could seek another facility for its hub on the Eastern Shore.
“The hangar improvements have to be made to retain Piedmont,” said Strausburg. “If Piedmont leaves, we would need to find another major tenant to ensure the long-term survival of the airport.”
The Salisbury airport is home to Piedmont’s corporate headquarters and is also the primary maintenance facility for the company’s entire fleet. The airport in Wicomico is the largest of Piedmont’s three major maintenance facilities.
“As a result, we have more flights in and out of Salisbury than we ever had,” said Airport General Manager Bob Bryant. “These improvements will maintain the high number of flights and will also help us retain high quality, good paying jobs.”
Bryant told the council a major shake-up in the airline industry could prove to be a boon for the Salisbury airport. American Airlines is currently in the midst of a merger with U.S. Airways, which is the signature carrier for the Salisbury airport. Depending on how that merger shakes out, the Salisbury facility could see a major increase in business if American Airlines chooses to make the facility a regional hub in the mid-Atlantic region.
“They’re very interested in our location and in maintaining a U.S. Airways hub here and a future American Airlines hub,” he said. “The response from American has been very positive, but we need to maintain and renovate the county facility to allow that to happen.”