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Manassas votes to approve commercial airport expansion

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(The Center Square) — Northern Virginia is a step closer to adding another commercial airport after the Manassas City Council voted unanimously to expand flights to Manassas Regional Airport after negotiations with airport management company Avports and a public hearing with area residents.

Some citizens expressed disapproval of the proposal because of anticipated noise pollution and increased traffic, so the council postponed making a decision until last night.

The city council, comprised of the vice mayor and five other members, determined the economic and travel benefits to the city outweighed concerns about noise disturbances, pointing out that the commercial flights to be added in the first phase of the airport renovations are inconsequential compared to the number of flights the airport already handles daily.

The largest of Virginia’s 57 general aviation airports, MRA currently sees approximately 110,000 “operations” – or takeoffs and landings – each year.

Phase one will increase those operations by a maximum of 3,650 with 3-5 commercial flights per day, Airport Director Juan Rivera told The Center Square. This number is down from previously reported estimates of six to eight, and even 10, flights per day.

Assuming the city makes its vote official on Friday, its Airport Commission will enter into a 40-year lease with Avports, the company that approached the airport with ideas of a commercial expansion over one year ago.

The airport has been approached before with similar ideas from other organizations, but none of them were willing to take on enough of the risk to make the 18,000 square foot terminal ready for commercial service.

“The main reason, honestly, that the airport has never moved forward with commercial air service is because of the costs associated with expanding the terminal building to the proper size,” Rivera said.

Airlines have wanted the airport to add commercial service before without committing to invest in MRA should the airport agree to do all the work.

But Avports, which operates at 11 airports in five states, was willing to enter a lease for the airport’s terminal and build a 35,000 square foot addition to make commercial service possible.

“What makes this opportunity a good one is because you have a company that’s willing to come in and take the risk on their own and put up their own capital to make it work,” Rivera said.

As The Center Square previously reported, the renovations will occur in two phases, ultimately adding 18-24 flights to the airport daily. But the city council mostly focused on phase one on Monday night since a lot will need to happen before phase two starts.

Phase one will take roughly 12-18 months to complete, according to Rivera. The airport will need to obtain certification through the Federal Aviation Administration and approval of its security plan by the Transportation Security Administration. Rivera’s understanding is that Avports will begin its work concurrent with those processes.

If phase one goes smoothly and all parties want to continue to phase two, the airport will need to undergo a thorough federal environmental assessment.

Avports looks forward to getting started should the council formalize its agreement with them on Friday.

“Convenient and affordable air travel is the key to unlocking much of the economic potential in Manassas and Prince William County. We’re very excited to see this project take the next step of the many steps ahead,” Avports CEO Jorge Roberts told The Center Square.

“The City of Manassas has long planned for passenger commercial service and we’re very proud to play a role.”

The lease alone will bring more than half a million dollars to the city monthly.

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