AIRPORT

Crowds lined the observation areas of Smith Reynolds Airport in 1951 for the arrival of President Harry Truman in Winston-Salem. The airport, which has been in operation since 1927, would get special designation under a bill in the N.C. General Assembly. The House unanimously passed the legislation in 2019. It’s finally before the full Senate.

Legislation that would make Smith Reynolds Airport the first in North Carolina to be designated as a legacy airport resurfaced Tuesday in the N.C. Senate in Raleigh.

House Bill 694, a bipartisan bill sponsored by three Forsyth County legislators, cleared the N.C. House in May 2019 by a 114-0 vote.

The bill sat in the Senate Rules and Operations Committee for more than 13 months until being moved Tuesday to the Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee.

The bill was recommended by the Appropriations and Rules Operations committees, sending it to the Senate floor.

“It’s not unusual for it to take a while for House bills to clear the Senate,” Rep. Debra Conrad, a co-primary sponsor of HB694, said Tuesday.

“In this particular case, especially since I am not running for re-election, I was pushing hard to get my remaining bills to the governor’s desk.

The legislation was requested by Forsyth Commissioner Ted Kaplan, who serves on the airport’s board of directors.

The legislation would allow the state Transportation Department’s Aviation division to classify as a legacy airport any facility that meets the following requirements:

  • Owned and operated by a county; established as an airport and has been in continuous operation since at least 1944.

According to the city of Winston-Salem, Miller Municipal Field opened in 1927. It was renamed Smith Reynolds Airport in 1942 after the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation gave money to the airport. Z. Smith Reynolds, the younger son of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, was an avid amateur aviator early in the 20th century.

  • Contains a terminal building that was built and has been in continuous operation since at least 1944.
  • Has an actively used runway that is at least 6,500 feet long.
  • Has contributed significantly to the development of aviation in North Carolina.

Conrad has said the legacy designation would be in sync with the state’s First in Flight branding.

“The airport served as an Army Air Corps training facility,” she said.

“The airport and Winston-Salem gave birth to a legacy carrier, which was Piedmont Airlines, so we definitely qualify as an airport that has contributed significantly to the development of aviation in the state.

“Of course, Piedmont merged with USAirways, which was folded into American,” Conrad said.

She said that having a legacy designation “could be useful in branding and in economic-development activities.”

The goal is to have the airport prepared should money become available for legacy airports in a proposed federal infrastructure bill, which could reach up to $2 trillion in funding.

“While most federal dollars go to international airports, legacy airports in our state could try to leverage that status to obtain funds to advance the utilization of these important assets in our state,” Conrad said. “We would be able to use legacy in the branding and marketing of Smith Reynolds.

The legacy designation could make the airport more attractive to aviation tenants or low-fare airline carriers, supporters say.

“We’re trying to put North Carolina out on the curve on this nationally,” Conrad said. “We would have to see where this takes us and try to better utilize our assets.”

Any branding through the state legislature “is likely to be a benefit particularly regarding public relations and marketing,” said Keith Debbage, a joint professor of geography and sustainable tourism and hospitality at UNC Greensboro.

“But it remains unclear if this will lead to any tangible benefit at this point.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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