Saturday, July 20, 2013

Officials mum on sudden exit of Greenwood Municipal (KHFY) airport director -- Indianapolis, Indiana

Officials today refused to say why the director of the Greenwood Municipal Airport abruptly left his post last week.

Marilyn M. Allen of Greenwood’s Human Resources Department confirmed that Ralph Hill’s last day as the airport director was July 12.

Allen refused to disclose the reason for Hill’s departure and would not say if he resigned or was fired.

Hill had been credited with helping to turn around the airport’s financial problems. In February, Mayor Mark Myers recognized the airport’s improvement under Hill’s leadership during his State of the City speech.

Myers also declined comment and said the city does not talk about personnel issues.

Officials hired Rusty Nichols to replace Hill at the same salary, $60,000 a year.

Story and Photo:
FROM THE ARCHIVES: On solid ground: Longer runway helps Greenwood airport pay its way

July 19, 2013 

This story was originally published March 14, 2013.

Not long ago, the Greenwood Municipal Airport was hemorrhaging cash, and year after year, it came to the city for a handout.

But the taxpayer bailouts ended last year, officials said, thanks to a new vision and some strong city investment.

"One of the great turnaround stories at the city this year is the revitalization of our municipal airport," Mayor Mark Myers said in his Feb. 12 State of the City speech. "In 2012, we decided to support the airport, and the results have been amazing."

This week, the city is demolishing an unused 105-foot water tower that has long posed a hazard to pilots because of its proximity to the runway.

Greenwood also refinanced its airport debt of about $1.2 million. And the city is investing about $500,000 on new hangars and other projects with money from a tax increment financing district.

But just as importantly, Myers also successfully lobbied the Federal Aviation Administration to pay for 90 percent of a $1.1 million project to lengthen the runway by 100 feet. Now 5,000 feet, the runway allows bigger planes and corporate jets to touch down in Greenwood. While 100 feet might not seem like much, many companies don't allow their jets to land at runways shorter than 5,000 feet because of insurance restrictions.

In addition to the expansion, the project included resurfacing of the entire runway. The federal government paid just short of $1 million, while Greenwood and the state shared the remaining $110,000 cost.

The airport's last bailout came in 2011, when city leaders gave the airport $200,000 from the general fund just to keep it operating, according to the city controller's office.

But last year, airport earnings — mostly from a rise in fuel sales because of an increase in planes landing at the airport — returned nearly $114,000 to the city budget.

The airport's success, Myers said, proves tax dollars invested wisely can quickly pay dividends.

"We used to lose money every year, as long as anybody can remember," Myers said recently. "You do some work, you show it the love and attention that it needs, and the results pay for themselves."

Ralph Hill recalled the airport's "precarious" position when he signed on as manager in November 2010.

"On the other hand, with this location so close to Indianapolis and these nice facilities and with the people around here," Hill said, "I was happy to give it a shot."

He credits the turnaround to the hard work of airport employees, the pilots who use it and many others who volunteered their time.

Credit also goes to Hill's efforts to expand the airport's clients by personally calling on executives with national and international companies, such as Anderson Merchandisers, which owns  a distribution facility in Franklin.

Executives of the Texas-based company spend a lot of time traveling on corporate jets, said Debbie Johnson, Anderson Merchandisers' vice president and chief communications officer.

When busy executives need to visit the Franklin warehouse, Johnson said, landing at the Greenwood airport saves 40 to 60 minutes of travel time, compared to Indianapolis International Airport.

"Our pilots have been all around the 50 states," she said. "They raved about the (Greenwood) facility."

While the city's investment has paid off so far, the airport still has room for improvement.

There's no de-icing equipment, meaning most corporate jets won't land in Greenwood in the winter. And there's no air traffic control tower and only one runway, so many pilots will choose to land somewhere else when cross winds are high or visibility is poor.

Those upgrades are on Hill's wish list. But he said city officials have expressed interest in backing a modest but important proposed improvement to the airport: a new restaurant.

"A nice restaurant would draw people to the airport," Hill said. "It would also draw traffic from other airports, where pilots could fly in, eat and hopefully purchase fuel."

Roger Tomey, 64, Greenwood, said he got hooked on flying more than 20 years ago.

"You get up on that runway, you get that thing full throttle and lift off," the retired railroad worker said, grinning. "Oh, what a feeling."

Before, he said, most pilots used the airport only when they had to. Now, he said, they want to land in Greenwood.

"This airport's made a 180-degree turn," said Tomey, a flight instructor. "This airport is vital to the city."

Story and Photo: