'A good problem to have'

14 Mar 2016

‘Full house’ might be the best way to describe the current state of affairs at the Beatrice Municipal Airport.

All of the airport’s single-plane hangars are fully occupied, airport manager Diana Smith said. The airport’s current occupancy of 38 planes has the remaining open hangar space nearing capacity, and is more than Smith said she can remember in her time there.

“It’s a great problem to have,” she said.

A major recent construction project at the airport reflects its busy usage. The north-south runway recently underwent a total reconstruction, which is now complete except for a few finishing touches. The project was sponsored in large part by the Federal Aviation Administration, Smith said, in order to provide a smooth landing for all the planes stationed in Beatrice and the many aircraft that fly in for a visit or to refuel.

The airport’s second, diagonal runway is slated for reconstruction in 2018. The FAA will supply 90 percent of the funds for the project, Smith said.

Smith said annual traffic through the airport is about 10 to 12 thousand operations per year – landing and takeoff are each counted as a separate operation. Many of those incoming and outgoing planes also purchase fuel while they’re on the ground – Smith said every year the airport sells 20,000 gallons of jet fuel and 30,000 gallons of low-lead fuel for other aircraft.

Some of that flight traffic is from local pilots, but visitors from outside the area make up a significant portion, and those visitors can have a big impact, economically speaking.

Smith said the last time the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics did an economic impact study was in 2003, but even then the numbers spoke volumes. Between employment, hangar and property rental, fuel, food, overnight stays and other expenditures, the Beatrice airport had a $2.3 million impact on the community.

There are a variety of businesses that take advantage of the airport. Day-to-day operations include two air applicators going out to spray crops, and sometimes pilots fly in to pick up small mechanical parts for delivery, Smith said.

More eventful days might include a visit from representatives of a national corporation. Smith said having an active, well-maintained airport is a plus for the community when companies are considering establishing operations here.

Airport Authority board chairman Joe Hawkins agreed. “People don’t realize how many businesses use the airport. It does a lot to help the economy,” he said.

Hawkins said the runway projects are the big focus for the airport for the next few years. But, new hangar space is a definite need at the moment, he said, although plans aren’t currently in place for any hangar construction.

He added that an easier project which might also be done in the next couple of years is to replace the airport’s beacon tower. Hawkins said the board has been discussing that move for a while, and that a new beacon would be comparatively inexpensive.

A new hangar, on the other hand, would have to be another project funded through the FAA and the state Department of Aeronautics – otherwise the airport wouldn’t be able to afford it, Hawkins said.

Smith said the hangar constructions she has looked into would cost over $600,000.

But, the airport still has extra space in larger overflow hangars for visiting aircraft, if need be, meaning little inconvenience for pilots coming to Beatrice.

The airport’s well-maintained facilities can be a draw in and of themselves for traveling pilots to make scheduled stops, and the airport also serves as an alternative way to bring visitors to some well-known local amenities.

Pilot Tom Barth said after a recent landing that he and his wife fly in eight to 10 times a year from Manhattan, Kan.

“It’s mostly to eat at the Black Crow,” Barth said, laughing. He said he is always happy with the airport facilities. “It’s a very nice airport.”

This article is from the Beatrice Daily Sun, written by Adam Rollins.