Monroe has received final federal approval to build a customs department at the city airport, making it the first general aviation airport in the Carolinas to offer that service.
This will be a very, very significant addition to what weve got, said Chris Platé, Monroes executive director of economic development and aviation.
Enabling international flights to land at Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport should increase the airports appeal with the corporate market, Platé said, and provide a vital service for Monroes thriving aerospace industry. He also expects a boost for the citys tax base when more aircraft are based at the site.
Currently, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the only airport in the area that offers customs service.
Monroes facility should be open by summer 2014. The city began working on the project about four years ago.
Its taken so long to get to this point, I can understand why so few of them exist, Platé said. It will completely change the way the airport looks in five years.
Other moves by the airport will help accommodate international travel, including increasing the runway length from 5,500 feet to 7,000 feet, and strengthening the runway surface. That allows bigger planes to land. It can handle any aircraft size below a 737, Platé said.
Flights could arrive directly from Europe or Russia to Monroe, for instance.
With U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security signing off on the design of the 2,400-square-foot customs building, bids for the structure should go out next week. Construction is set to start around mid-June and should take nine to 10 months to complete. The facility will be next to the main terminal.
Platé estimated it will cost between $750,000 and $1 million for the building, equipment and related work,
The city expects to see it used two or three times a month at first, he said, and get about 30 customers a year.
For us, thats a good start, Platé said. As people become more aware of us, theyll use us more.
Bobby Walston, deputy director of airports for N.C. DOTs Division of Aviation, agreed. Its a serious piece of the commerce equation in Union County, Walston said.
Other general aviation airports around the state could follow Monroes example, he said, and consider adding customs departments if there is enough demand for such services in their area.
Customs officers will not be permanently stationed in Monroe, but will come on an as-needed basis. Monroe will pay the customs agency about $162,000 for the first year to cover staffing, a total that decreases in subsequent years to about $140,000.
The airport will charge a fee per flight to help defray costs. The fee hasnt been set yet.