County Airport Board
resolute despite turbulence
narrows choices to three rural locations
Helen E. McKinney
(December 2007) When Bob Carlson became a
licensed airplane pilot in 1978, he knew he wanted to make a career
out of flying airplanes. Thirty years later, he flies for United Parcel
Service and has his own small, private airplane that he uses to teach
his children how to fly.
But because there is no airport or hangars in Oldham County, Carlson
has to store his plane on a private strip on Miles Field in Shelby County.
There are several small airports in Shelby County, said Carlson, but
he knows of none within Oldham County. Having one in the county in which
he lives would make things a lot more convenient for him.
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In my opinion, we do need an airport in Oldham County,
said Carlson. Taxes will go up unless we improve the tax base.
A proposal to build an airport in Oldham County has been debated for
several months now, and many residents have raised opposition to it
during recent public hearings. The initiative began two years ago as
an exploratory committee of the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce. But
earlier this year, Oldham County Fiscal Court established a six-member
Oldham County Airport Board to continue pursuing a feasibility study
for an airport to be located in the county. While the Oldham County
Chamber has not officially endorsed an airport yet, it supports the
research process to determine if one is needed, said Executive Director
Deana Epperly-Karem. Oldham County Judge-Executive Duane Murner says
he backs the idea from an economic standpoint.
We considered what an airport would look like, what costs and
benefits are associated with it, and how other communities with airports
had been impacted by similar projects, said Jonathan Westbrook
who chairs the Airport Board and previously headed the chambers
committee. If properly planned and developed, an airport can be
a non-intrusive member of the community transportation plan.
Westbrook said that, thanks to federal and state grant money, Oldham
County would be responsible for paying only 2.5 percent of the total
costs to build an airport. This is a great return on a small investment.
Underwood, a private pilot from
Oldham County, poses beside
the familys airplane.
The feasibility study showed that an airport would cost
between $15 million to $20 million to build and could house as many
as 105 aircraft. It could generate more than 50,000 takeoffs and landings
a year about 134 a day. To some residents, thats too much
noise for the rural county to comfortably absorb.
And the old adage of Not in my back yard still holds true,
especially when trying to select a location for an airfield. Some residents
also cite what they consider to be negative environmental impacts from
Carlson believes there are several businesses in the county that would
prefer to have an airport there, especially many UPS pilots who live
in the county.
Carlson flies his private plane, a Zodiac XL, about 90 hours a year.
He has had it in a hangar at Miles Field for the past two years. He
said he would definitely relocate to Oldham County were a hangar and
For three months, Carlson had to keep his plane in a hangar at Bowman
Field. It was very inconvenient. There is so much air traffic
at Bowman Field.
Carlson believes a smaller airport in Oldham County would be a safer
airport for him and other pilots to use. He said pilots with smaller
planes want to stay away from the heavy air traffic in Louisville. The
two types of traffic are so different, he said.
Ive had to wait ten to 15 minutes for clearance to take
off from Bowman Field. Less air traffic would mean fewer delays.
Some residents want the issue put on a ballot vote, but county
officials say the law does not require it. Following recent public
hearings on the subject, the next steps would be an environmental
assessment, a final recommendation from a hired consultant, a
presentation to Oldham County Fiscal Court and another public
meeting. Following approval, county officials would then proceed
with efforts to buy land, create a master plan and complete engineering
and design, then construction.
Oldham County resident Max Underwood, a commercial pilot
and flight instructor, has made a career out of flying since 1971. He
owns a Beechcraft Z-23 that he flies for pleasure at least once a week.
Underwood has to store his plane at Bowman Field when not in use. His
wife, Pam, flies, as does his daughter, Mary, a student pilot. He said
he would definitely use an airport if one were built in the county.
I think its a significant economic engine for the county,
he said. Businesses look at several factors when considering moving
into an area, said Underwood. Many times areas get crossed off
of the list if they cant find what they need.
Underwood predicts a lot of travel in general aviation in the future.
Executives will use general aviation more over the next 10 years.
Once it was established last March, the Airport Board chose the Nashville,
Tenn.-based firm of Entran as its airport consultant to complete the
study. The board wants to understand peoples concerns, not
just the technical side of the issue, said Westbrook.
The study was conducted in the form of surveys that were broken into
two categories: registered aircraft owners and business users. Bill
Stout of Entran said the results of this feasibility study determined
if there would be plenty of activity in the area to support an airport
and if it would be an asset to the community.
Deciding the project was worth pursuing, the board had Entran administer
a site selection survey. This survey determined that there was a big
aviation need in this area, said Stout. It revealed possible sites
that could be developed into an airport within the county.
Stout said 275 acres would be needed to build a general aviation airport.
Used by businesses, corporations, for recreational use and personal
flying, such an airport would have a single runway with a proposed length
of 5,500 feet. Large aircraft would not be permitted to use it.
gets her first flight with pilot
Bob Carlson of La Grange.
The board had its chance to hear feedback on the possible
airport sites on Nov. 12 when a public forum was held at the John W.
Black Community Center in Buckner. Consultants from Entran identified
three sites from an initial 17 studied that could serve as possible
airport locations. The first site is near Dawkins Road between Ky. 146
and U.S. 42, and includes land owned by the state. The second site is
between Ky. 22 and Blakemore Lane, a portion of which extends into Henry
County. The final site is known as Gathright Hill, and lies between
Ky. 53 and Ky. 22, extending into Shelby County.
To gain approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, conducting
a survey of businesses and pilots in the proposed area was the first
step in the process of getting an airport. The next critical step was
placement of the project on the National Plan of Integrated Airport
Once the project was placed on this list, it was eligible for 95 percent
federal funding. The state would contribute 2.5 percent while the county
would pick up the remaining 2.5 percent.
A Kentucky Department of Aviation grant is funding the studies by Entran
that are halfway finished at this point, said Westbrook. The airport
project will not progress without a complete study. Once it is determined
if the identified sites will work, the approval of the FAAs preferred
site must be sought.
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