Sunday, October 23, 2016

Knowing the Brazil Clay County Airport

Above are some of the private hangars at the Brazil Clay County Airport.

A lot of people don’t know that Clay County has an airport. While opinions over the years have varied about its usefulness and purpose, those backing it today say it has great value and potential and want it to grow.

Current Brazil Clay County Airport board members are Ray Jones (president), Kent Booe, Carl Trout, Matt Booe and Kip Clark.

The airport was established in 1967 by the Board of Aviation. In May of that year the Brazil City Council authorized Mayor Everett Jenkins to apply to the state’s Industrial Development Fund for a $100,000 loan. This money would be used to construct a city airport on land owned by the City about a mile east of State Road 59 on what came to be called the Airport Road.

In August 1967, the Common Council of the City of Brazil turned over control of the use of that ground to the Board of Aviation Commissioners. The Brazil Airport was created. The first runway was just a grass strip. Later an asphalt runway was put in and an office and a few hangers were built.

Eventually, the City of Brazil did not want full responsibility of the airport. So, in 1972, they sold half of the interest of the airport to the Clay County Commissioners for $5,000 in supplies, equipment and labor to develop the airport. The County agreed to maintain and support the airport through a county tax levy, leaving Brazil without any responsibility for its maintenance and support. The City had provided land and start-up funding. Clay County would now pay for upkeep. The facility was renamed the Brazil Clay County Airport (BCCA).

Over time the airport offered an office/lounge with phone service, coffee and rest rooms for anyone using the facilities. A few hangars were available for rent. Businesses or individuals could build their own hangar at their expense and have private use of that hanger for 20 years with a 10-year extension, if approved. After that time, ownership of the hangar would revert to the airport.

Fuel was available but the pump to access the underground gas tank was locked for security reasons. Board members and hangar renters all had a key for the pump. Anyone else wanting to get fuel at the airport had to contact one of the key holders. The airport needed someone who could be available to unlock the pump when needed and to maintain the facilities.

The Board hired Jack Thomas to be the airport manager in 1997. He and his wife, Bobbie, maintained and upgraded the facilities, pumped gas and welcomed all who came to the airport. Jack was paid $916.67 a month at that time. Bobbie received no compensation. They spent time at the airport seven days a week and were on call 24 hours a day.

“It was a labor of love,” Jack said. The Thomases kept their private plane in a hangar at the airport at that time.

The airport had fallen into disrepair and was in dire need of some hands-on supervision and care. The reason the airport had gotten so rundown was the Board had been told about the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS). This was a federally funded program that would give the airport $150,000 a year indefinitely if they qualified. The airport runway is 2,900 feet long. To be eligible for NPIAS program, the runway would have to be expanded to 5,000 feet. That could then allow it to accommodate jet plane service which it cannot do with a 2,900 foot runway.

After nearly 10 years of research and numerous studies, the Board was told that the only way they could get a runway of that length was to move to a new location south of I-70 and make a whole new airport. It would be a $20,000,000 project and the county would have to come up with a 20 percent, $4,000,000 match. That was not a realistic option.

Since the Board had no idea that it would take that long to get answers from the NPIAS program, they kept putting off doing any major repairs hoping to get the federal funding. When they finally closed the door on the NPIAS project the airport was in desperate need of repairs. Jack was hired somewhere in that time frame.

Two years ago the manager position was eliminated and Jack was let go. There are mixed feelings about that Board decision. Some think the Thomases improved the airport, maintained it well, kept it clean and friendly to visitors and were always available to provide fuel for any pilot. They thought the money spent to employ Jack was well worth it.

“The Thomases did an excellent job,” Jones said. “There were certainly no complaints with the work they did. It was simply a matter of money. Our budget was small. Even though Jack’s salary wasn’t all that much, it was a good percentage of the airport’s total budget. So we felt we had to eliminate that cost.”

Some people felt that the airport lost revenue after Jack and Bobbie left due to decreased services, especially fuel access. With no manager it takes longer to get someone with a key to the pump.

And the fuel tank itself was another issue. The airport once had a 10,000-gallon underground gas tank. With Jack being there much of the time and living close, he was usually available to give pilots quick access to fuel. Brazil was the cross roads of the airways for airplanes to fuel up.

Several years ago, the Board had the underground fuel tank removed and went to a 1,500-gallon above-ground tank. Buying in bulk is usually cheaper. So going with the smaller tank increased the price of gas. Some believe the Board should get a second, larger above-ground tank to help lower the fuel cost.

Some think it’d be just as quick for pilots to go to Hulman Field for fuel. Some pilots say that’s not the case. Talking to air traffic controllers (BCCA is uncontrolled) and with the congested airspace, it takes a lot more time to land, fuel and take off at Hulman Field than it does at BCCA — and time is money.

The work previously done by the manager is now done, voluntarily, by base pilots. They cut grass, spray weeds, remove snow and leaves, do general maintenance and try to keep the lounge and rest rooms clean.

The airport uses well water which has a high iron content that has stained the stools and sinks which makes them look dirty. There are signs on the rest room mirrors stating, “water is unsafe to drink.” It’s not known for sure if it’s really unsafe but the stains make it look so unappealing, probably no one would drink it anyway. People bring their own water.

The Board recently received permission to hook on to city water. When that’s completed the Board will replace the rest room fixtures. It will look much cleaner and people can drink the water.