Monday, July 30, 2012

Aiken Municipal (KAIK), South Carolina: Airport topic of City Council work session

The Aiken Municipal Airport's success seems to be flying high as the facility has seen an increase in traffic over the last few months.

Aiken City Council members gathered at the airport Thursday afternoon for a work session to hear from Aiken Aviation Enterprises owner Mike Laver about the happenings at the facility.

Aiken Aviation Enterprises is the fixed-base operator which first leased the airport from the city in 1977.

The airport has seen many changes over the years. Most recently, the Instrument Landing System was installed and first used in February. ILS provides navigational guidance - both horizontal and vertical - to properly equipped aircraft, allowing them to land at the airport in bad weather conditions of cloud ceiling and visibility. The ILS permits additional piston-powered and jet aircraft at the airport.

Thanks to that new system, aircraft that couldn't land there before now can. For example, Laver said, they had a Global Express aircraft land there this year, which is a pretty large plane with a 100-foot wingspan. The ILS has helped increase the airport's traffic flow.

This year, the week of the Masters Golf Tournament was extremely busy, Laver said.

"It's crazy - that's the only way to describe that," Laver said when Councilwoman Gail Diggs asked what it's typically like during the Masters. "I was very proud with what everybody (staff) did this year. It was quite amazing."

The Aiken airport experienced a 47 percent increase in traffic during the Masters week. Laver said he remembers seeing 48 large jets that Friday. Aiken's aiport was taking in aircraft when Bush and Daniel fields in Augusta couldn't.

The airport did face a few challenges when the economy tanked. Starting around 2007 or 2008, the airport saw a decrease in fuel sales, Laver said. And over the years, he had to put in around $500,000 to keep the FBO afloat.

But, with his great staff, competitive fuel prices and the recent increase in traffic, Laver said the airport has pulled through a tough time.

The Aiken Municipal Airport was established by the federal government during World War II on 1,150 acres that was owned by the city. It was later returned to the municipality when the war ended, according to a memorandum from City Manager Richard Pearce. The city had to continue using that land for an airport or other related uses.

Through the years, many improvements have been made to the airport. Small, local aircraft and larger jet planes from around the country and world have made a stop at the airport as it expanded its services.

"We seem to have a good reputation - I'm proud of the job we're doing here," Laver said, later adding, "The community should be proud of what's happening at the airport."