The gravel runway at Silver Springs Airport could be paved this spring.
The clock started ticking Thursday when the Lyon County Commission accepted a $1.05 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to pave the World War II-era runway.
The clock has stood still for six years while Airport Manager Hale Bennett sought grants to pave the runway. He expected the present grant a year ago, but Congress did not include airport improvements in the FAA budget at that time.
"We're very, very relieved and excited about the new life for the Silver Springs Airport," Bennett said.
With the money in place now, Bennett plans soon to hire an engineer, who will need at least one month to design the runway and drainage. Once the designs are done, the project will go to bid with a contract issued 60 to 90 days later, Bennett said.
"That puts it into March or April, best guess," he said. "It's all weather dependent. I would think as soon as the weather warms up enough we can lay asphalt."
Bennett and Lyon County have ambitious visions for the under-used airport whose 7,200-by-150-foot runway rivals runways found at metropolitan airports. Silver Springs Airport has the longest and widest rural runway in Nevada. Lyon County's industrial parks and cargo carriers throughout the West could find Silver Springs attractive, County Manager Steve Snyder said.
Bennett is marketing the airport for aircraft-related industrial use, mainly in shipping and storage.
For now, Bennett plans to pave 6,000-by-75 feet.
Silver Springs Airport was built with a paved runway in 1944. Planes still land and take off from that pavement, though it has disintegrated to gravel in the course of a half century with no maintenance until Hale and Kay Bennett leased the land a dozen years ago.
On Thursday, Cessna used the gravel runway for testing to gain certification for a new model twin-engine jet that will fly in rural Canada, Bennett said.
The War Department built the airport as a landing training base for heavy bombers, but the runway went into disuse in the early 1950s.
"I landed a B-29 there in 1945," said Bennett, who now flies a single-engine, six-passenger Cessna Turbo 210.
By the time the Bennetts leased the property, they had to hunt for the one-time runway in the regrown sagebrush and grass desert landscape.
"You couldn't tell it was a runway if you didn't know it was one," Bennett said. "It was an awful lot of dragging, burning and spraying (to reclaim the runway)."
Paving Silver Springs Airport would give Lyon County three paved airports along with those in Dayton and Yerington. Silver Springs, however, has the only county-owned airport.