SUMMERVILLE -- Fueled by the promise of Boeing-related plants and other industries, the modest airport outside town is positioning itself to become a high flier.

The Summerville Airport just won FAA approval to extend its runway from 3,701 feet to 4,500 feet, although that's not as much as airport officials sought. They wanted more than 5,000 feet, the magic number to land larger numbers of revenue-producing corporate jets -- as well as their industries.

But the FAA approval carries a rider -- the airport can do site prep for a 5,000-foot runway.

Meanwhile, a 4,500-foot runway would make the airport the third largest in the Charleston metropolitan area, behind Charleston International and the Charleston Executive airports. Add in existing touches -- a nearby Interstate 26, leather-chaired pilot's lounge, weather-briefing equipment and Wi-Fi -- and the ground is being laid to attract those jet pilots.

"They prefer to go into runways that are just a little longer," said Don Hay, airport manager. The 4,500-foot expansion makes it "more convenient for local folks to fly into the airport."

The Summerville runway expansion could be quickly followed by a Berkeley County Airport expansion. That county is mapping out a project now.

The Boeing aircraft assembly plant under construction at Charleston International Airport in North Charleston is expected to draw a number of spin-off industries. Dorchester and Berkeley counties are competing to attract those plants to business parks located in both counties along I-26 near the Jedburg community, where the Summerville airport is located.

At the Summerville airport, the pilots chairs are part of a new, $800,000 terminal that also includes a business- meeting conference room.

The terminal gives Dorchester County a competitive advantage for providing service to the growing Jedburg industrial and distribution businesses in Dorchester and Berkeley counties, County Administrator Jason Ward said before it was built.

Like the terminal, the runway is expected to be paid for almost entirely by grants; the cost has been estimated at $4 million to $5 million. The county just won a $300,000 federal stimulus grant to start the runway prep work. Last year it won a $400,000 grant to acquire land for the expansion. Hay said he expects the 4,500-foot expansion to be completed in two years.

The airport is already landing some corporate jets, but the traffic is dependent on weather, pilot experience and what that company's aircraft insurance policy allows, he said.

The FAA approval was limited to 4,500 feet based on the airport's current "purpose and need," said Kathleen Bergen, FAA public affairs manager. The agency's support for preparing the site for a future extension to 5,000 feet means that, when that expansion is justified, only paving and lighting will be required.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or