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Ron Smith

The week of Aug. 19 is National Aviation Week, which commemorates the achievements that have taken humankind into the wild blue yonder. In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed Aug. 19 to be National Aviation Day. The day matches the birthday of Orville Wright, who piloted the Wright Flyer. He and his brother Wilbur are credited with building the world’s first successful airplane with controls that enabled them to steer it. Orville Wright made the first flight for 12 seconds and 120 feet around the site of Wright Brothers National Memorial, just south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on Dec. 17, 1903.

The Statesville Regional Airport started out in 1935 as a small grass strip for a few aircraft. The airport has progressed from paved runways in 1955 to a major runway extension in 2004 to 7,000 feet with the arrival of Lowe’s Corporate Aviation. Rapid growth of hangars and larger aircraft occurred when the City decided to close the North-South Runway in 2000 to allow for construction of hangars for NASCAR drivers.

Based on a recent study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Aviation, the Statesville Regional Airport contributes $134,580,000 to the local economy, contributing $8,414,000 in state and local taxes. Over the past six years, the state and the Federal Aviation Administration have invested $28,739,000 in grants for airport improvements costing the city and county only $249,000 in matching funds. The small grass strip is now home to 109 aircraft, with 13 of them being 50-passenger jets taking NASCAR drivers, pit crews and support teams to weekly races. Statesville Regional Airport is sixth in North Carolina in air cargo tonnage, supporting local automobile parts manufacturers in delivering parts to Detroit.

The first man to actually leave the ground was in France in 1783 with the Montgolfier brothers hot air balloon. Just last year, the Carolina Balloonfest celebrated its 45th year of ballooning in Statesville, with the last 36 years hosted at the airport. During the month of October, come out to the Carolina Balloonfest on Oct. 18-20 to view 50 hot air balloons take flight. Then on Oct. 20-24, come back out to the Statesville Regional Airport to see historic WWII aircraft from the Collings Foundation.

During National Aviation Week, take a moment to glance up at the sky and reflect on the past, present and future of air travel and all those who make it possible. The success of the Statesville Regional Airport could not have happened without visionaries on the Statesville City Council and Iredell County Commission. If you find yourself at the Statesville Regional Airport, note the individuals who contribute on the frontlines and behind the scenes to make this the best General Aviation Airport in North Carolina. Happy Birthday, Orville Wright!

Thanks to John Ferguson, Statesville Regional Airport Manager, for the information that contributed to this article.

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