Wilkes County government has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the state for building a taxiway connecting the runway to a new Samaritan’s Purse hangar to be built at the Wilkes County Airport.

County Manager John Yates learned in an Aug. 30 letter from Bobby L. Walston, director of aviation at the N.C. Department of Transportation, that the economic development grant had been approved. Yates applied for the grant in May.

The letter said the State Board of Transportation approved the grant on Aug. 8 and that no local matching funds were required.

The application for the grant said the new taxiway would serve a Samaritan’s Purse hangar not yet constructed. It said the grant-funded project would result in the creation of one job, that of a pilot. Samaritan’s Purse now has eight employees and four aircraft at the Wilkes airport.

According to a May 23 letter accompanying the application from Samaritan’s Purse CEO Ronald Wilcox, the Christian disaster aid ministry is in the process of building a $1 million, 18,200-square-foot hangar at the Wilkes airport “and we look forward to increasing our business activity” there.

The site of the new hangar is just north of the current 19,738-square-foot Samaritan’s Purse hangar, which is on land leased from the county.

Wilkes County Commissioner Gary Blevins, who serves on the Wilkes County Airport Board, said the new taxiway would also provide access to land where the county plans to build T-hangars.

Blevins said utilities must be relocated from the path of the new taxiway, which he said hasn’t been designed yet. He said the airport’s value as an economic asset continues to grow.

“The lengthened runway would make it possible for Samaritan’s Purse to operate larger business aircraft that could fly farther without refueling to better accommodate international flights,” said Wilcox.

Wilcox also quoted what Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham said at the May 17 groundbreaking ceremony for a new 48,000-square-foot office building for an additional 150 employees on N.C. 268 East in North Wilkesboro, “Those types of planes require just a little bit longer runway.” Graham is a pilot and is at the Wilkes airport.

Wilcox noted that the Wilkes airport is only five miles from the growing Samaritan’s Purse campus on N.C. 268 East in North Wilkesboro, where the ministry already has 178 employees focused on U.S. disaster relief, a medical warehouse supporting dozens of mission hospitals around the world and other ministry support.

“Samaritan’s Purse works in more than 100 countries around the world from our international headquarters in Boone, and Wilkes is the closest airport from where we can originate flights to respond to emergencies and help those who are hurting,” Wilcox stated in the letter.

The ministry bought its current hangar at the airport from Capital Bank in 2014, and the bank bought it from Dove Air Inc. in a foreclosure sale in 2011. Lowe’s Companies Inc. originally owned the hangar.

It has had aviation operations based at the Wilkes County Airport since 1989 and owned and occupied two 8,000-square-foot hangars there before it acquired its current hangar.

Samaritan’s Purse is the largest purchaser of aviation fuel from the county and has the most aircraft at the airport. It doesn’t pay county property taxes because it’s a nonprofit.

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