Danville Regional Airport Renovation
In the 1940s, the city of Danville was already an established “dot” on the map. It was known for textile production, tobacco, and its diverse manufacturing environment. During that same time period, the Civil Aeronautics Authority committed to building two hard-surface runways with lights at the present location of Danville Airport. Only two other cities in Virginia – Richmond and Norfolk – would have similar airports. However, World War II occurred, so Danville Airport was not officially opened until 1944. It saw its share of commercial traffic until 1979 when Piedmont Airlines discontinued service. For the past 12 months, KDAN – Danville Regional Airport’s code – has been in the process of a renovation that will connect all of the dots to reveal the 2023 Danville Regional Airport.
KDAN is owned by the City of Danville. Mark Aldeman, director of Transportation for Danville, manages the airport. Averett University (AU) is the fixed-base operator (FBO) and has run the flight instruction component of the airport’s aeronautics program for over 40 years. Nearly 10,000 flight operations were recorded in 2022. Just over 4,000 were local operations and about 85 percent of those were generated by Averett flight instruction. The balance of the operations was departures and arrivals, many of which were jet aircraft.
Almost 15 years ago, I traveled to Danville Regional for weekly Civil Air Patrol (CAP) meetings with my son. ( CAP serves as the Air Force Auxiliary.)
At that time, I saw KDAN as a quaint but functional airfield for mom-and-pop aviators who were fortunate enough to be able to afford aviation as a pastime and hobby, but not much more. I paid little attention to how things worked or didn’t. In recent years, I needed the airport as a certified FAA testing center for my UAS 107 Certificate. I still didn’t notice a lot of changes in the terminal building. However, after working on different stories about Danville and its growth, the airport renovation project has created a lot more dots for me to connect.
About two years ago, the Airport Commission, airport staff, and the Department of Transportation began planning for needed KDAN improvements. The steady growth of the Averett Aeronautics program, increasing air traffic from events at Virginia International Raceway, (VIR) and the advent of Caesars of Virginia all elevated the renovation project. Many of us, I’m sure, have experienced the dysfunction of government planning and execution. I didn’t get that impression while researching this story, though; far from it. After interviewing several principal players in the process, the adjectives that I would use to describe connecting the dots on this major renovation are competence, cooperation, and collaboration. The major concerns that were addressed were runway conditions, airport parking space, terminal building improvements, and fuel supply expansion needs.
One of the things I most appreciated when learning about this process was the “ready-aim-fire” mentality. A focus group involving AU’s chief flight instructor plus pilots from commercial airline, cargo, and business aviation was formed. Who better to provide input than the folks that utilize the facility? In addition, the Airport Commission, Fixed Base Operator Manager, and the Department of Transportation all had critical input.
John Earl, FBO manager, said the City of Danville and the State of Virginia are clearly dedicated to investing in the community by supporting the airport renovations, which are only a couple of months away from completion. The planning and funding has been no small task.
John added that KDAN is a “busy airport” for the size of the population it serves. During a recent VIR event, many million-dollar corporate aircraft needed to be parked on the smaller crosswind runway due to lack of space. Potential debris from that runway, which was in disrepair, could have easily damaged the aircraft. Not only that, but when Caesars of Virginia and VIR both have events, there could be fuel supply issues. It is not as if you can run down to the corner store to pick up 100 gallons of jet fuel or call the local paving company and throw down some more crush and run gravel.
An additional 20,000-gallon jet fuel tank is required. The FBO operation obtains most of its revenue from fuel sales. These are some big dots that need to be connected.
John said a prime factor in a CEO’s decision to purchase a local company would be whether the airport could handle the needs of the corporate jet. KDAN can. On any given day, there is likely to be an AU aircraft on the taxiway with a HondaJet and a Gulfstream G550. There might even be a 1938 P-40 Warhawk or a C-130. And KDAN can handle them all. If visitors need concierge-style hospitality solutions or pilot amenities like an updated lounge, shower, or kitchen facility, it’s available. Airframe and Powerplant services are available as well. These may be small dots that make big impressions on visitors.
Averett University is definitely an anchor client at KDAN. “Having an airport facility in good shape is a great asset and is key to attracting new students and retaining them,” said Chief Flight Instructor Travis Williams. Travis has been serving for 18 years and is an AU alumnus himself. He manages 17 flight instructors and said Averett has alumni flying for companies all over the world. In the last year, the AU program has seen an increase of 20 percent. Aside from the program growth, Travis is most proud of the program’s safety record. Considering that a student spends four years on a degree and typically another couple of years on additional certifications and flight hours, the economic impact to the community is significant. I would call Averett’s presence at the Danville Regional Airport a cluster of dots that solidify the college’s place in this puzzle.
Phillip Hall, Airport Commission chairman, said the terminal renovation allows Danville to become the standard of general aviation facilities. Cheryl McLeskey, Region 5 Virginia Aviation Board director, gave glowing feedback on the progress of the renovation. The push and pull of design decisions, along with the administrative competence needed to navigate the funding and supply chain challenges through different agencies, was no doubt significant. Marc Adelman was definitely the Pilot in Command on the project, but I saw firsthand the result of great collaboration of effort at the terminal. From coordination of design and functionality in the public areas, to the wall art depicting the inviting beauty of sights and destinations in the region, it all works.
Phillip Hall said it well: “Danville is growing in so many ways and the airport is one of the first impressions Danville can make on key visitors to our city. Updating runways, aprons, hangars, and the terminal has been a quantum step forward for this facility.”
The runway side of the terminal building, or The Canopy, as it is known, should be finished and welcoming visitors by June 2023, completing Phase 1 of the Danville Regional Airport renovation. Well done, City of Danville. I can’t wait for the next visit to KDAN to see all the dots connected.
424 Airport Drive
Danville, VA 24540
Learn about the author at https://ncvamedia.com/authors/paul-liggitt/