News

Local airports may be small but big impact

Union photo by Gretchen Teske

The Washington Municipal Airport has 25 hangars for rent. It is ranked the 13th busiest general aviation airport in the state out of 101.
Union photo by Gretchen Teske The Washington Municipal Airport has 25 hangars for rent. It is ranked the 13th busiest general aviation airport in the state out of 101.
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For Scott Jennings, of Winfield, flying is not just a hobby. It’s a family past time started by his grandfather and one he got started with at age 17.

His grandfather earned his pilot’s license in the ‘40s and owned three planes in his lifetime; all were stored on the family farm. The last plane he owned, a 1958 Cesna, was moved to the Mt. Pleasant airport in 2013.

Jennings said it was getting more and more difficult to maintain the grass runway at the farm. Having an airport so close, where the family could still keep the plane and use it, was a huge benefit.

Jennings is not alone. Many general aviation fans use small town airports in southeast Iowa, as do local businesses. The airports in Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Washington are all owned by their respective cities and managed by individuals.

John Newton, manager of the Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport said there are two runways: one grass and one paved. The Mt. Pleasant airport is run by Newton’s company Air Advantage, Inc., which acts as the fixed based operator. This means they are responsible for selling fuel, maintenance of the grounds and renting out the hangars.

He said the airport has 26 planes on the premises, owned by people from Burlington to Washington. Owners who rent a hangar generally use them for corporate and general aviation purposes.

Air Advantage, Inc. is also responsible for charter, cargo and flight instruction services and owns five planes. The charter service is most commonly used by business executives who need to be at a plant in a different state, but back in Mt. Pleasant by the end of the day. Instead of driving for hours, they are able to fly and get to their destination much faster.

The cargo services can range, but are commonly used by local manufacturers that need parts as soon as possible. Instead of waiting for a shipment to come in via mail, utilizing the airport is a faster, more effective option.

The Fairfield Municipal Airport has two runways, one grass and one paved. Bob Lyons, airport manager, said the grass runway is generally reserved for smaller planes because it is easier for them to land on. Lyons said the airport has 22 hangars that can be rented out.

Over in Mt. Pleasant, Newton said there are also two runways, one grass and one paved. The Mt. Pleasant airport is run by Newton’s company Air Advantage, Inc., which acts as the fixed based operator. This means they are responsible for selling fuel, maintenance of the grounds and renting out the hangars.

He said the airport has 26 planes on the premises, owned by people from Burlington to Washington. Owners who rent a hangar generally use them for corporate and general aviation purposes.

Air Advantage, Inc. is also responsible for charter, cargo and flight instruction services and owns five planes. The charter service is most commonly used by business executives who need to be at a plant in a different state, but back in Mt. Pleasant by the end of the day. Instead of driving for hours, they are able to fly and get to their destination much faster.

The cargo services can range, but are commonly used by local manufacturers that need parts as soon as possible. Instead of waiting for a shipment to come in via mail, utilizing the airport is a faster, more effective option.

In Washington, airport manager Mike Maxted said there are two runways and both are concrete. Twenty-five planes are based out of the Washington Municipal Airport and all hangars are full. Even though all planes are privately owned, cross-country traffic is the most common use.

He said the airport commission came together about eight years ago and decided they wanted to support general aviation by operating on volume, not margin. In order to do this, they lowered fuel prices considerably. This resulted in people stopping in to use the airport for fueling before continuing on to their destination.

He said the biggest impact the airport has seen since implementing this change is during Oshkosh week. This year, 347 planes landed at the Washington Municipal Airport to fuel up before flying to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show, in Wisconsin. This is up from 209 planes that stopped during Oshkosh week last year.

Over in Fairfield, general aviation pilots are the biggest consumers, Lyons said. People fly in to see businesses, local landmarks and just for fun. The military also uses the airport for training.

“Ag is a big deal, too,” he said, adding fungicide application for corn and cover crops are the two biggest ways the ag industry is involved.

Air Advantage, Inc., operated out of the Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport does seeding and chemical operations for farmers. Ag Air, a family owned company, is operated out of the Washington Municipal Airport, Maxted said.

For 25 years, the Fairfield Municipal Airport has been run by Lyons and his brother, Roger Lyons, a mechanic. The airport makes money from maintenance, flight instruction and fuel sales. Lyons said the airport supplies both aviation fuel and jet fuel.

At the Mt. Pleasant Airport, anywhere from four employees in the peak season to 16 employees in the summer can be found on the grounds. Their job descriptions range from mechanics to pilots to office personnel to ground support staff.

Maxted said the Washington Municipal Airport has two employees and several business operate out of the space as well. According to their website, there are 30.5 jobs stemming from the airport.

Despite the high number of people working at the airport, Maxted said general aviation as a whole has been about average.

“People aren’t flying as much as they were 10 years ago, but we’re still keeping our numbers up,” he said.

According to their website, the Washington Municipal Airport is the 13th busiest general aviation airport in the state out of 101. On an average year, they handle 11,900 aircraft operations.

Lyons reported the Fairfield Municipal Airport had an increase in jet traffic this year, but has seen a slow down curve of general aviation use over the years. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said the price of fuel, parts and insurance for small planes made a dramatic increase.

“That has eliminated the average guy from owning an airplane. It’s made it difficult, so the general aviation has gone down hill in the small planes, not the jets. The more wealthy people are flying more now than ever,” he said.

Newton said the traffic at the Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport has been up this year. This is most likely because those who own small aircraft use them for fun. When the economy is doing well and fuel prices are low, more people are inclined to fly, he said.

The more people fly, the more the local economy benefits. Cambridge, a financial planning firm in Fairfield, utilizes the airport often, Lyons said. The firm has 900 employees and flies people in from across the country.

Maxted said Washington does not have as many big industries as Mt. Pleasant or Fairfield, but sees this impact as well. Newton said the economic impact the airport has on the area is one residents do not always recognize.

He said just having an airport creates a positive trickle down effect for the city because it increases the probability a plant or company will settle in the area. Once they do, more jobs will be created which will result in more consumers in the town, helping the local economy.

For pilots like Jennings, it also helps keep memories and passions alive. He’s still flying the plane his grandfather bought in 1958.