Commercial flights are being cleared for takeoff in Manassas.
The city council voted Monday night to approve a 40-year franchise agreement for the Manassas Regional Airport’s terminal building, moving forward with a plan to begin bringing passenger airline service to the airport in the next two years. The agreement will become official after a second reading at a special council meeting on Friday.
The deal gives the Dulles Airport-based Avports an exclusive right to operate commercial passenger service out of the airport for over $700,000 annually. The company plans to start by reorganizing the airport’s current terminal building to operate up to about 10 flights per day starting in 18 to 24 months.
That first phase will serve as a proof of concept, Avports representatives say. If successful, the company will then move into the second phase of its plans and expand the terminal building to be able to run up to 30 flights a day. It estimates the expansion would cost between $70 million and $125 million.
At the continued public hearing for the proposal Monday night, council members heard more of the concerns over noise and traffic that were voiced at the governing body’s June 10 meeting. But council members and representatives from Avports said that those impacts would be practically negligible during the first phase, and if the company does choose to move forward with the second phase, the terminal expansion would require a lengthy federal environmental review process that would include noise and traffic studies, as well as more public comment.
“Change is hard but it can be done,” Mayor Michelle Davis-Younger said Monday. “With growth comes growing pains. … This city is moving forward, this city is growing, people are coming here by droves. Businesses want to move here, we have to be ready for it.”
To hold up its end of the bargain, the city-owned airport will have to successfully be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration under Part 139, which establishes mandates for airports serving scheduled commercial service. The airport will also have to contract aircraft rescue and fire fighting services and organize Transportation Security Administration screening, which the TSA provides at no cost.
Airport Director Juan Rivera says the airport will need to hire several new full-time employees to handle the increased work, but that the ground lease would more than cover the new expenses coming out of the airport fund. It’ll be the first time in over 50 years that an airport has added scheduled commercial service and gone through the Part 139 process anew, but Rivera said the airport is largely run to those standards already.
“Avports is taking the vast majority of the risk with their proposal,” Rivera said Monday night.
Representatives from Avports say they’d like to get service up and running in 18 months, but that 24 will probably be more feasible. They say multiple carriers have expressed interest in operating out of the airport, but that it will be some time before carriers and routes become official. Rivera said the carriers will likely be budget airlines running flights to popular vacation destinations like Orlando.
Several carriers have approached the airport in the past, but Rivera said their proposals would have required that the airport foot the bill for terminal expansion. Avports first made their approach last August, after which the airport released a request for proposal for a terminal lease. Avports made the only bid.
“We built this terminal building in 1994 … with the idea that passenger service has been a desire and aspiration of the community and the government for all those years,” Councilmember Mark Wolfe said Monday. “We have been down this road before. … There have been different proposals … and it never, frankly got this far. This is, by far, the best, most complete proposal we’ve received.”
Right now, the airport currently handles about 100,000 “operations” – either takeoffs or landings – annually. At most, Rivera has said, the fully-built second phase of the project would net an additional $15,000 annually, at most.
Councimember Tom Osina said he was confident that significant negative impacts would be considered through the environmental review process before any terminal expansion takes place.
“I’m satisfied that this environmental analysis by the federal government will be thorough to make sure that moving to expanded flights can be done in Manassas airport,” he said Monday.
In addition to the lease payments, the airport will also see increased fuel fee revenues as a result of the deal.
Rivera told the council that the airport’s 6,200-foot-long runway would need to be widened by 50 feet to accommodate the new flights, but neither he nor Avports have said what type of aircraft are likely to be used by passenger carriers at the airport. The largest planes it can accommodate will ultimately be dictated by weight, taxiway geometry, and other factors.
“We’ve looked at the [Boeing] 737-800. We’ve looked at the [Airbus] A321.. Those aircraft can operate in here with no issues,’’ Rivera told InsideNoVa earlier this month. “But again, I’m not going to speculate. It’s the runway length, how much fuel they’re taking, how much baggage they have on board, how many people are on board, all make a difference on the utilization and what they can do on the runway.”