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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Piedmont Triad International Airport, the topic of much recent discussion about expansion plans, will be getting a perhaps unprecedented influx of more than $5 million from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill.

Kathy Manning
Kathy Manning

U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) announced in an email Thursday that $5,117,453 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Improvement Program would be coming to PTI.

The airport also was the recent benefactor of $106.75 million in a Job Development Investment Grant passed by the NC General Assembly for “a high-yield project for an airplane manufacturer in Guilford County.”

The project, dubbed “Project Thunderbird,” likely would mean $500 million in investment and about 1,700 new jobs, which the legislature’s bill said would earn an average of $60,000 a year.

Boom Supersonic of Denver, the company developing a supersonic commercial jet, has been reported as the company with eyes on PTI.

State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro), who has been involved in the development of the incentives, won’t confirm that report but has told WGHP that he thinks the chances the deal is completed is “about 70% chance—closer to 80%—that it’s going our way.”

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners will have a public hearing at its meeting tonight to consider more incentives for the deal, which Garrett and others have said is not yet a “done deal.”

The airport is developing about 1,000 acres north and west of I-73 that would be available for new investment. A taxiway already has been constructed across the interstate to connect the property with runways.

“We’ve got a number of different ideas of what we might do with that money,” PTI Executive Director Kevin Baker said in an interview with WGHP. “We’ve got a number of different ongoing projects here to improve the passenger experience … or create jobs in the aerospace industry.

“These funds are desperately needed, I’d say, and we’re going to put them to good work.”

Baker said the airport routinely received grants and allocations from the FAA based on formulas and specific projects, but “beyond that, additional money like this from the federal government. . . . It’s been a long time, if at all, that money like this that’s been provided to improve infrastructure at the airport.”

Baker is strictly “no comment” when it comes to Project Thunderbird, but he quickly touts the economic impact of the airport and the roughly 8,600 employed on the property. With peripheral jobs off-site he calculates about 30,000 in the community have employment ties to the airport.

“It’s a huge economic engine for the region,” he said. “Our average salary [at the airport] is around $65,000. In about a 45-mile radius the average salary is around $50,000….So these are good-paying jobs.”

The Airport Improvement Program provides grants to public agencies for the planning and development of public-use airports that are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, the release said. The infrastructure bill signed last month by President Joe Biden includes $25 billion over the next five years for such projects.

North Carolina’s airports collectively received more than $91.5 million. Charlotte/Douglas got more than $43 million and Raleigh-Durham International about $14.7 million. PTI was third on the list.

Across the Triad, Davidson Airport in Lexington, Wilkes County Airport in North Wilkesboro, Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem each received $295,000, and Asheboro Regional, Elkin Municipal Mount Airy/Surry Airport and Rockingham County NC Shiloh were among 30 airports receiving $159,000 each. Montgomery County Airport received $110,000.

“I’m proud to announce that the bipartisan infrastructure law, that passed Congress with my support, includes more than $5.1 million in federal funding for the Piedmont Triad International Airport,” Manning said in the release. “This funding will help enhance travelers’ experience and continue to attract businesses to our region by connecting the Triad to the rest of the country.

“With recent economic announcements in the Triad, it’s more important than ever that we invest in critical infrastructure to prepare for the next generation of business development and job creation.” 

Grants allocated to North Carolina’s aiports.
Grants allocated to North Carolina’s aiports.