Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ag sprayers boost airport business: Columbus Municipal (KOLU), Nebraska

Telegram photo by Cole W. Eberle 
Pilot Ben Halstenson, of Wilbur-Ellis Air, sprays a corn field south of Schuyler Tuesday afternoon with fungicide. The plane's tank holds 500 gallons of of chemical, and on average puts out five gallons to the acre for this type of application. That is all subject to change based on the chemical and the requests of the farmer. After the tanks are dry, this plane returns to Columbus Municipal Airport to be refilled.

COLUMBUS — Airplanes aren’t the only things soaring at Columbus Municipal Airport during crop-spraying season.

Revenues heading toward the city coffers are also on the rise as an influx of aerial applicators has established bases here.

The board of airport commissioners approved agreements last week for three more companies to operate out of Columbus this year, taking the total number of aerial applicators at the airport to five.

In addition to providing area farmers with timely and economical crop protection through the application of fungicides and other products, Airport Manager Mark Cozad said the companies support local hotels, restaurants and retail businesses, which translates to increased tax dollars for the city.

“It also brings in some extra revenue through the licensing for the airport,” Cozad said.

Each aerial applicator is required to pay a $1,500 fee to operate out of Columbus Municipal Airport. Other requirements include insurance coverage for fuel or chemical spills, adoption of a spill prevention and clean-up plan and compliance with state and federal environmental regulations.

Some of the companies have also established permanent facilities on the airport grounds.

WinField Solutions LLC, a wholly-owned division of Land O’Lakes Inc., built its own 6,400-square-foot hangar and loading pad to accommodate two aircraft located there.

The St. Paul, Minn.,-based company has a 25-year lease on land and taxiway use at a current rate of $3,850 per year.

Har-Mor Ag Air Inc., which has operated out of the airport since taking over the lease of Columbus Aircraft Maintenance Inc. in September 2010, pays $15,120 annually for its use of a hangar and other amenities.

And the Tekamah-based aircraft rental, charter and crop-spraying company may not even make chemical application runs out of Columbus this year, Cozad said.

The other aerial applicators, all of which have operated out of Columbus in the past, are Mid-State Aviation II Inc. out of Cozad, Wilbur-Ellis from Huron, S.D., and Aurora Cooperative.

In all, Cozad said 7-10 crop-spraying aircraft are located at the airport, with each one making up to five or six runs a day.

“There’s quite a bit of takeoffs and landings,” he said.

With this increase in activity, which typically lasts through August, comes a jump in fuel sales for the airport’s fixed-based operator, Avcraft Inc.

Last July and August, for instance, nearly 47,500 gallons of fuel was sold by Avcraft, according to Cozad.

This compares to an average of about 2,500 gallons during the typical winter month and 6,000 to 7,000 gallons monthly throughout the rest of the year.

“That’s a significant amount more,” said Cozad.

Because the airport collects a 5.75-cent fee for every gallon of fuel pumped, the crop sprayers can add a couple thousand dollars more to city revenues simply by flying.

“It definitely benefits the city,” said Cozad.

Even the one common complaint from residents here — noise — has been silenced this year.

“Last year we got quite a few complaints,” Cozad said. “This year we haven’t had any.”

His guess is this can be attributed to both instructions passed on to the pilots to watch their altitudes over the city and the absence of a radial-engine aircraft from last year that was “extremely loud.”

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