Construction on the Sussex County Airport's runway extension project – put on hold throughout the winter – is again underway.

Construction on the Sussex County Airport's runway extension project – put on hold throughout the winter – is again underway.

"We're maybe more than halfway home," said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) during an April 19 visit to the airport

According to Carper's office, the project will extend the runway from 5,000 to 5,500 feet. The project also includes improvements to the airport's approach through tree removal, and upgrades to lighting and pavement striping. Carper's office said the runway extension will make the airport accessible to larger aircraft and improve safety and accessibility in less than ideal weather conditions.

Work on the first phase of the project restarted on April 15 and is expected to last about four months. During the first phase, general contractor Mumford Miller Concrete of Middletown cleared 40 acres of woodland from the future approach route north of the existing runway, laid gravel for a new taxiway on the south end, and expanded the airport's existing stormwater management pond.

The first phase received $3.1 million in FAA funding through the agency's Airport Improvement Program. The grant covered 90 percent of the phase's cost, with the rest being split by the state and the county.

Phase 2, according to County Engineer Michael Izzo, is about to go out for bid. Estimates for this work are at about $4.5 million. Once a bid and contractor are selected, the county will submit a grant application to the FAA for that portion of the project.

This second phase will overlay the existing runway and install the remaining parts of the medium intensity approach lighting system. Contractors will also restripe the entire runway to Federal Aviation Administration standards and install new precision approach path indicators at both ends of the runway.

Izzo said not only will the extended runway support larger planes, it will also "help our existing aircraft take off with heavier loads."

Carper said the focus of the project is on job creation.

"This creates jobs – good paying jobs, manufacturing jobs," he said. "The idea is to have a longer runway so [PATS Aircraft Systems] can bring in additional aircraft and hire more people."

PATS, which builds and installs auxiliary fuel systems and custom interiors in private aircraft, has said the expansion may allow the company to add another 60 jobs to its payroll in years to come. The 15 other businesses at the Airport Industrial Park, which employ about 900 people, also stand to benefit from the expansion.

A second expansion that will add another 500 feet, for a total length of 6,000 feet, is in the works, but is far off on the horizon. The total projected cost of the project is at $20 million. About $7 million of that cost would be needed to realign Park Avenue, which would also require the state to acquire about 50 acres of fields and woodland.

According to Carper's office, the Delaware Department of Transportation is currently doing survey work to obtain the topography needed for a more detailed design of the road realignment. DelDOT only has funding available for the survey work through the end of the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of June. If more funding is not made available, DelDOT will stop the work.

Staff Reporter Scott Goss contributed to this report.