ALBEMARLE — With the help of recently passed funding signed into law, a state-of-the-art Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) flight-crash simulation program will be built next to the Stanly County Airport.
On Nov. 18, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bipartisan state budget bill that will provide $28 million to the Department of Transportation to secure capital improvements for the N.C. Emergency Training Center at the Stanly County Airport, funding a brand-new Boeing 747 flight-simulation system that is designed for specialized advanced-rescue training for plane crashes.
“The impact this will have for the county and airport is fantastic,” Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican who represents Stanly County along with parts of Cabarrus and Rowan counties in the state House, told SCJ on Nov. 30. “With all the people that will be coming, there is probably no training in five states around us that can do that. People will be coming all the way from California here to train — it’s a really, really big deal.”
The background of the N.C. Emergency Training Center dates back to December 2017, when North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and North Carolina Air National Guard Col. Michael Gerock announced a partnership between the Guard and the Office of State Fire Marshal to establish a state emergency training center — at the time just the second facility of its kind in the nation — at the Stanly County Airport.
The airport’s Air National Guard facility was selected as the site due to its location and amenities. Centrally located near lakes, the Rocky River, Morrow Mountain State Park and the Uwharrie National Forest — various types of terrain essential for training — the center was equipped with facilities that will now be updated.
The current estimated timeline on the improvements has not been yet released, with pending environmental assessments and land purchases still hanging in the balance.
Stanly County Airport Director Ken Swaringen told SCJ on Nov. 29 that he views the upcoming improvements at the N.C. Emergency Training Center as a positive expansion on a program that has already found success within the county.
“The Air Guard has done that type of training for military members and some civilian organizations for a number of years here. This will expand that as we’ll see people from across the state and military members from bases across the country come here,” Swaringen said. “It’s something that’s long been needed for the state to consolidate the training.”
The airport director mentioned that he was initially concerned that the wording within the state budget bill implied that the $28 million in funding — designated fully for the training center — would be going to the airport itself.
Following some revisions in the bill, he is not concerned that the center’s funding would have any future repercussions on any possible funding for the airport’s infrastructure. In the meantime, Swaringen said that the increased name recognition of the airport and center will go hand-in-hand, benefiting each other as time goes on.
“The airport will see an impact too because it’s right next door to us,” he added. “We’re not expecting a lot of increased air traffic, but for the local economy, this will be huge.”
The two-year budget was passed as a compromise between the Senate and House — allocating $25.9 billion for 2021-22 and $27.0 billion for 2022-23 — and includes $115 million for Stanly County and the surrounding region.