Regional Airport Study

Study shows feasibility
of regional airport

Sites near Sanders, Kentucky Speedway explored

By Don Ward

CARROLLTON, Ky. (December 2003) – A federal and state-funded feasibility study to determine the need for a regional airport for Carroll, Gallatin and Owen counties has been completed, with a site-selection committee expected to generate a short list of choice by mid-December.
The study, sent to the Federal Aviation Administration in November, will provide the necessary information for local government officials to move forward in locating an airport, probably near the Kentucky Speedway along I-71 in Sanders, Ky., said Tim Haskell, a consultant who presented the study’s findings Nov. 10 at the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting at Gen. Butler State Resort Park.

Tim Haskell

Photo by Don Ward

Consultant Tim Haskell (left) displays a
map of possible sites for the airport.

Kentucky Speedway officials and industrial companies located along the Ohio River are expected to be the primary users of such an airport, but the plan is to also offer aircraft storage and maintenance to private owners, Haskell said.
“We anticipate enough demand for up to 75 aircraft to be housed here by owners living between Cincinnati and Louisville,” said Haskell, who works for HMB Engineers in Frankfort, Ky., but is based in Nashville, Tenn.
The study involved taking an inventory of aircraft owned in the region, both private and corporate; assess airspace needs; and surveying aircraft owners in the region.
“We asked them if they would use an airport in that area, and how often,” Haskell said. “We then asked if they would consider locating their aircraft there. The response was overwhelming, with about 15 aircraft owners saying they would locate their planes there.”
Haskell said the FAA, which ultimately has the final say in whether the airport project will go through, seriously considers the survey results of area aircraft owners. He predicted the FAA would approve the application “very quickly.”
That brings the project to its second step: locating a site. The consultants plan to identify up to 15 potential sites, then narrow it to the top three and present them to the three county judge-executives by mid-December. All potential sites must provide at least 8,000 feet of flat ground for a runway. This includes a 6,000-foot runway with 1,000 feet of overrun on both ends.
Other factors being considered are the topography, ease of access to the three counties, the air space around the area, environmental concerns, developmental cost projections, and proximity to schools, residential areas, cemeteries and historical buildings.
Haskell said it would take up to 400 acres to accommodate a runway, parking area and terminal.

Madison Airport

Photo by Don Ward

A small aircraft heads for the runway
at the Madison Municipal Airport.

Meanwhile, the three county judge-executives must decide how to manage and operate the future facility – probably via an aviation board or commission.
“Obviously, the existence of the Kentucky Speedway in our area has created interest in an airport for the region, but we believe there are many benefits to local residents, too,” said Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson, Carroll County Judge-Executive. “We want to emphasize that at this point, the feasibility study did not cost local tax payers a single cent. It was paid for entirely with grant money.”
The operation and maintenance of a future airport, however, could come at the expense of tax payers in the three counties for which it serves. Similar small airports, such as the Madison Municipal Airport, are funded primarily by an taxing authority, plus revenues generated from hangar rental and fuel sales.
The proposed regional airport would generate only about a dozen jobs, but it is the secondary benefits, Haskell said, that are most important. “The existence of such a facility in the region could entice new industries to locate here, thus creating jobs. Other secondary benefits exist but are hard to measure.”
Haskell estimated the cost to build the airport at $10 million to $15 million, with the burden shared by federal (90 percent), state (5 percent) and local (5 percent) governments. Federal money for airport projects is generated within the aviation industry from fuel taxes, aircraft registration fees, ticket fees and parts.
Kentucky Speedway officials are anxious for a nearby airport to help in their campaign for a future Winston Cup (to be alled Nex-Tel Cup in 2004) race. Nearly all Winston Cup race sites use nearby airports to ferry drivers in and out of the track. Some tracks report up to 200 aircraft operations per race week, enough to fund the airport’s entire year of operating expense, Haskell said.
“NASCAR feels it is a requirement for a race because the transportation needs are tremendous,” Haskell said.
Once a site is chosen, it will be up to the willingness of the property owners to sell to complete the land acquisition.

Jim Melton
Jim Melton

Charles Shontz, a pilot from Louisville who attended the chamber meeting, said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea for a regional airport, and I’m sure the Kentucky Speedway is driving it, but I believe finding 75 aircraft to be based there is optimistic.”
Haskell admitted that only 14 percent of the surveys mailed to aircraft owners in the region were returned. “That means 86 percent are obviously not interested,” he said. “We assume 40 to 45 initial aircraft would be based there.”
Opened in 1964, the Madison Municipal Airport is located only 15-20 miles from the Ohio River industrial plants and 30 miles from the Kentucky Speedway. It has taken four decades to get it to a stable and profitable point, and two years ago opened its new $300,000 terminal. This year, a new computerized weather system was installed. The airport is owned by the city and managed by an independent contractor, Jim Melton. He said the costs are high simply to maintain an airport.
“It cost nearly $1 million just to pave our runway in 1992,” Melton said. The city plans to extend the 4,400-foot runway to 5,000 feet northward by 2007 and repave the existing runway again. By comparison, the Madison airport has 20 rented hangars with about 55 aircraft and sells fuel to pilots. There are privately operated maintenance facilities there.
“This airport is not that far from where they are talking about building this new regional airport,” Melton said. “Our Board of Commissioners have worked hard to make this airport nice for the whole region, and I hate to see it underutilized.”
The commissioners’ 20-year plan includes building a second runway to accommodate larger aircraft. Also, a Cincinnati company has expressed interest in building a jet maintenance facility there, Melton said.



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