SILVER SPRINGS - The gravel runway at Silver Springs Airport will remain unpaved for the time being because Congress did not include airport improvements in the Federal Aviation Administration budget.
Airport operators Hale and Kay Bennett awaited approval of three grants for $2 million to allow them to pave the runway, build a taxiway, add runway lighting and put in a radio signal to allow for instrument approaches by aircraft.
"Apparently, Congress funded everything in the world except for the airport improvement budget," said Hale Bennett, who has leased the airport from Lyon County for about a dozen years.
Airport improvement funding did not materialize because Congress only funded the FAA for six months rather than the usual five- to six-year authorization, said Dave Lemmon, U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan's press secretary.
"Everything on the FAA bill was put off," Lemmon said. "We're going to look at the issue again early next year."
Airport improvement comes from a trust fund that automatically becomes part of the FAA budget but the six-month authorization did not approve any grant proposals, Lemmon said.
Hale Bennett said he has sought the grants for six years and he will continue lobbying to pave the airport. At the same time, he and Kay, a Carson City supervisor, are marketing the airport for aircraft-related industrial use, mainly in shipping and storage.
"We have a number of companies interested in the airport," he said.
Right now, Silver Springs Airport has a 14-stall hangar, the runway and two wind socks and that's all. But Bennett expects to have business activity at the airport by next year.
"Yes, definitely," Bennett said.
Silver Springs Airport was built with a paved runway in 1944 and 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 the Bennett's leased the land.
The War Department built the airport as a landing training base for heavy bombers but the runway went into disuse by 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 a awful lot of dragging, burning and spraying (to reclaim the runway)."
Paving Silver Springs would give Lyon County three paved airports along with those in Dayton and Yerington. Silver Springs, however, has the only county-owned airport.
Silver Springs Airport has the longest and widest rural runway in Nevada. The 150-foot-wide runway is the same width as the main runway at Reno-Tahoe Airport, Bennett said.
Even the length of the Silver Springs runway, 7,200 feet, rivals major airports. Rural airports typically have runways about 3,000 to 4,500 feet long and 100 feet wide is "very wide for a rural runway," Bennett said.