City Continues to Support Aviation Enthusiasts
Municipal airports are often an integral part of smaller communities. While many of them simply contain grass runways or a single hangar, they still provide an invaluable service. There is an important link between an airport and a community’s economic vitality.
Thirty-five years ago, the Excelsior Springs Airport reported that 50% of the flights out were business related and 50% were recreational. Community leaders in Excelsior Springs and Clay County recognized the value the airport provided to our local economy and sought a new airport location because it was not possible to increase the length of the runway in its current location to meet the standards of a business airport. Without improvement, eventually our airport would become obsolete when the needs were met with a new location; by locating a new airport nearby, we could ensure the benefits derived from the airport would stay in the community. Thirty-five years ago, the City of Excelsior Springs had a lease agreement for Fixed Based Operator services with Dan Kirkpatrick. Mr. Kirkpatrick provided a manned operation at the Excelsior Springs airport, maintenance, fuel, ground transportation, facility maintenance, and hangar rentals. The city used Mr. Kirkpatrick’s lease payments to pay the utilities and insurance and except for occasional runway improvements that received partial state funding, the airport was not an expense to the city and the facilities were properly maintained.
Almost 20 years ago, funding for the construction of the Clay County airport was secured and construction underway with little to no expense to Clay County residents. For as long as Dan Kirkpatrick continued to operate as the FBO at the Excelsior Springs Airport, it was possible to support both airports; but it was a time when the operations were increasing at the new airport and declining in Excelsior Springs. Over the past 15 years or so, the city has struggled to find ways to keep the airport operational from the revenues generated by aviation users; sadly hard feelings have developed between pilots who rely upon this small local airport as an important focal point for their common interests and city officials who have declined to absorb the increased cost of sustaining a viable aviation alternative. The new airport has achieved its purpose to ensure we did not lose aviation services to our community; while the Excelsior Springs Airport became the spare.
Our community’s proximity to a metro area is in many ways an economic advantage. The Metro’s regional aviation system plan (RASP) for the nine-county area describes the 14 airports included in this plan. Four of these airports are considered Community airports, such as Roosterville located north of Liberty. Five are considered Business airports, such as the Excelsior Springs Airport; four are Regional Airports such as Midwest National located in Kearney and the Downtown Airport; and one is considered Commercial, KCI. The RASP studied a 10-mile radius around each of these airports. The ten mile radius for the Excelsior Springs airport eclipses Midwest National and much of the Roosterville study areas.
Roosterville is a private airport with a grass runway and exists to support recreational flying for hobbyists and aviation enthusiasts.
Midwest National is a regional airport that was constructed largely with federal and state funds in the last 20 years. The benefit of a regional airport is to support the attraction and retention of jobs and to support the vibrancy of the local and/or regional economy.
The Excelsior Springs Airport is considered a Business airport and as such, the RASP identified $8.3 million in improvements needed to meet all of its facility and service and performance measure objectives of a business airport. The greatest expense is the need to increase the length and width of the runway by 2,000 LF in length and 28 feet in width and to construct a full parallel taxiway which represents over $7 million of the needed improvements; other improvements included $580,000 to install Jet A fuel system, $450,000 for lighting improvements and navigational aids and several other smaller projects.
Below is a summary of the activities of these three airports which have study areas that eclipse each other.
The City of Excelsior Springs has continued to support aviation enthusiasts by acting on proposals to attract business needed to sustain the airport. Less than 10 years ago, the City spent over $400,000 to resurface the runway expanding the life of the airfield by 20 years, installed a new fuel system believing the investment would be self-supporting. We have sought the input of all licensed pilots in the area to determine the interest in the construction of new hangars with no response. The fuel system was abandoned last year due to the annual cost to keep the pumps operational and lack of fuel sales. The runway is less than 3 years old and needs $75,000 to repair a crack and seal the surface to prolong its life. The hangar doors strain to open and close due to the lack of attention to the mechanisms. Without the attention of staff, contractor, or volunteer it isn’t really possible to keep the facilities operational without expensive repairs.
The airport, to continue to be sustainable, must be adequately maintained. Minimal maintenance responsibilities include maintaining the runway surface and clearing the snow, lights along the runway, mowing the grass, and even cleaning the bathrooms. Because we do not have the luxury to hire or dedicate an employee to ensure the pilots can continue to enjoy the airport as they may have in the past, we seek opportunities to incorporate maintenance responsibilities with existing city operations. During the last year, the Golf Course has shared the airport facilities and began to mow the property, change the light bulbs and, yes, clean the toilets. As they will soon begin moving back to the golf clubhouse, they will continue to mow the property saving the city $13,000 annually; Parks has provided a proposal for the use of the north hangar that includes installing doors and insulating the building in lieu of spending the money to build a new building that is needed for maintenance equipment, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Park staff will be present on site providing a manned facility and will provide facility maintenance.
It is not possible to recover the cost ($8.3 million) to improve the airport to meet the standards of a business airport. The only revenues generated from aviation operations is hangar rent, which doesn’t even cover the cost of utilities and insurance, much less repairs to the facilities.
We encourage pilots to plan the construction of private hangars to meet their needs and will keep the runway operational as long as feasible. In general, airports are very capital intensive and have huge compliance costs for safety and security regulations which make them difficult businesses.