By Charles Sowell  

AUGUST 26, 2010 9:10 a.m. Comments (0)

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The boom in light sport aircraft will help fuel growth at the Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport, said Darwin Simpson, airport manager.

Light sport aircraft are a Federal Aviation Administration approved class of planes that require less training (a FAA Sport Pilot certificate and a driver’s license is all that’s needed to fly) and medical certification than general aviation aircraft, yet have adequate speed and range to be useful beyond simply being fun to fly.

Most of the 30 T-hangars at Spartanburg Downtown Memorial Airport are now occupied by aircraft worth between $50,000 and $700,000 and a coming 24-hangar expansion will likely be taken up largely by aircraft of the same types, Simpson said.

Light sport aircraft typically cost between $30,000 and $150,000. One plane on the tarmac at the airport that Simpson used as an example is a single-engine aircraft with a maximum airspeed of 120 knots. It is a two-seater with room for luggage and is capable of sustained flight of nine hours without refueling.

“A tank of gas in this plane will last longer than your bladder,” Simpson said.

City officials see the coming $4 million expansion and renovation of facilities at the downtown airport as sort of a down payment on making better use of the largest single property that Spartanburg owns.

Typically, airplane owners who plunk down the $235 monthly rent on T-hangars are the kind of people who use their planes for more than just recreation. Maintenance on these planes, beyond minor things like oil changes, require the services of a FAA certified Aircraft Maintenance Technician; the engines must be overhauled every 1,700 hours.

“It is the law,” Simpson said. “And it is not cheap.”

Work on planes used as commercial aircraft in things like charters have much more restrictive and expensive maintenance requirements.

Simpson has owned a twin-engine Beachcraft Baron worth between $200,000 and $300,000 for 10 years now. The plane was made in 1973.

“I’m on my fourth set of engines,” he said.

A new Baron is roughly $1.4 million.

Currently the list of people renting T-hangars at the downtown airport include Jim Colburn, a dentist; attorney Keith Kelly has a T-hangar and aircraft at the airport and so does Dr. Chuck Glace.

Most of the people who rent hangars are professionals who use their planes for business and recreation, Simpson said.

There is currently a 60-person waiting list for hangar space at the airport.

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