Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport (KPIB) to see major improvements

While Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport waits word on a new potential commercial carrier, it will tend to what executive director Thomas Heanue calls its “heart and lifeblood.”

A repaving of the airport runway/apron/taxiways and the construction of a seventh hangar for general aviation are expected to be underway by September.

“The runway, that’s the heart, and if we let that fail, the airport doesn’t exist, there’s nothing here,” Heanue said. “So, we’ve got to take care of the heart. It’s been 22 years, and while it’s held up very well ... if we hadn’t of planned (repaving), another year or so, and we might have had some major issues out there.

“General aviation, now, that’s where our future is, that’s our lifeblood. Even if you have no (commercial) air service, even if it goes away, that’s where the future is, that’s sustainability.

Heanue, who has overseen operations for the past 12 years, said the airport still was waiting to hear from the United States Department of Transportation on whether a bid from Sky West’s ExpressJet to serve a combined Hattiesburg-Laurel/Meridian route to Dallas-Fort Worth will be approved and granted an Essential Air Service subsidy.

“We still have heard no word,” Heanue said. “But we’re hoping that with improvements coming at the right time and a new carrier, going to a good hub, and hopefully, pricing very well, we’re hoping that good things are coming and we’re going to take off.”

Commercial boardings have dipped significantly since the arrival in late 2012 of Silver Airways, which stepped into the void left when Delta Air Lines dropped service at Hattiesburg-Laurel.

Between May 2009 and August 2012, Hattiesburg-Laurel saw at least 1,000 passengers pass through its terminal in 36 of those 40 months.

Since September 2012, the airport has not welcomed 1,000 travelers in any month, and has not seen 600 fly in or out in any of the past 20 months.

But the airport has seen significant growth on the general aviation side. Hattiesburg-Laurel’s Fixed Base Operator, U.S. Aviation, has seen revenues increase 68 percent over the past five years.

The number of private planes based at the airport have more than doubled in Heanue’s tenure, going from 34 in 2002 to 75 today.

Heanue said demand has led to the construction of a seventh hangar, a 10,000-square-foot space that will house one or two jets.

“That’s where our future is,” Heanue said.

The project, which is expected to get underway in the next few months, is expected to cost about $450,000.

“It just depends on the cost of steel and how hungry people are or not hungry, the contractors,” Heanue said. “Sometimes they come in pretty low, sometimes they come in high. It just depends on who bids and how many.”

Heanue said the airport received a $250,000 Multi-Modal Grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The remaining funds will be borrowed, either through a commercial bank or the Mississippi Development Authority, with user fees paying off a 10-year-note.

In September, the runway is scheduled to be closed for seven days for its first facelift in two decades.

A federal, Airport Improvement Project venture will resurface the airport’s runway, apron and taxiways in the first complete repaving project at Hattiesburg-Laurel since 1992.

Previous AIP projects at Hattiesburg-Laurel had included improvements to the terminal as well as energy-saving LEDs at the terminal and on runway/taxiways.

“The things we’ve done, energy-wise, it looks like we’re saving about $1,800 a month on our power bill,” Heanue said. “That’s LED-lighting on the airfield, LED-lighting inside. We redid some doors, keeping hot air out and the cold air in.”

Heanue said federal AIP dollars would fund 95 percent of the $3.1 million runway repaving project, which was awarded to Dunn Roadbuilders of Laurel. The remaining 5 percent will be paid with state funds, including another Multi-Modal grant.

“It’s pretty straight forward,” Heanue said. “It’s just asphalt taken up, new asphalt put down and then temporary markings because they need to let it cure before they put in (permanent) ones. Then they have to groove it.”

All flights will be canceled Sept. 2 to Sept. 8.

“The idea of that was there’s just too much opportunity for bad to happen if you try to keep part of the runway open,” Heanue said. “So we told the contractor, ‘Seven days, we’re going to shut it down. We don’t care if you work 24-7, but it needs to be done in seven days.’

“That will allow us to not get in any trouble with the FAA or NTSB, stay away from any kind of accident. Then, we can kind of piecemeal the taxiways in. You can back-taxi, and do sections of them at a time and that’s less intrusive.”

Heanue said it wasn’t easy finding seven consecutive days that could be marked off the calendar.

“We’ve got charters for USM coming up pretty soon, and we know those dates right now because the schedule’s out,” Heanue said. “Then we’ve got a group that comes every other week, from Haliburton, up to Sandersville, to their headquarters, the oil workers fly out of here every other week and every other Sunday.

“So, when you start to block out the days when you have those kind of operations, there isn’t a whole lot of seven-day stretches open in there.”

Read more here:

45th Annual Cracker Fly-in set for Saturday: Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport (KGVL), Gainesville, Georgia

GAINESVILLE - The Gainesville-based Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 611 will host its 45th Annual Cracker Fly-In July 5 in Gainesville at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

Organizers say more than 135 aircraft are expected from all over the Southeast including historic, homebuilt, helicopters and more. Aircraft judging in several categories will take place and a pancake breakfast will be served at 7:30 and lunch, catered by Branch House Tavern, at 11:30.

This is not an air show but is billed as a "car show for airplanes." There will, however, be helicopter and bi-plane rides and Lanier Flight Center will have new aircraft on display - and there'll be a display of Austin Healey cars and a Jumpy Castle for kids.

Admission is $3 per person, children 12-and-under free. Parking on Palmour drive next to I-985. 

Story and photo:

Fort Smith Regional Airport (KFSM) Traffic Up Amid Improvement Projects

The Fort Smith Regional Airport, the big business entry point for the manufacturing hub of Arkansas, has seen monthly increases in airport traffic this year.

With business travel an economic indicator, steady traffic in and out of the Fort Smith airport is a good sign for the direction of the local economy. Passenger traffic has increased 7.2 percent on average the first five months of the year, according to monthly reports.

“It’s the front door to the community and an important component of the local economy,” Michael Griffin, airport director of operations, said of the airport on a recent tour. “A large percentage of people coming through that terminal are business travelers.”

Operating in the same business format as a shopping mall, where other businesses lease space from the main facility, the airport has a 2014 budget of $5.5 million with total liabilities and net assets of nearly $39 million. Construction of the final third phase of a multi-year taxiway project recently was recently bid out for $4.6 million. Another $25,000 safety project for new terminal roof ice guards will begin soon. Federal and state agencies reimburse a large part of the bill.

One of the more interesting behind-the-scenes aspects to the Fort Smith airport is that it is home to Razorback Approach Control, a TRACON (Terminal Radio Control) designated air-traffic control group that serves as the central air command for all air traffic in northwest Arkansas. TRACON centers handle all flights from, and to, airports.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Razorback Approach Control provides “separation services” for flights at Fort Smith Regional Airport (FSM), Drake Field Airport (FYV) in Fayetteville, Springdale Municipal Airport (ASG), Rogers Municipal Airport (ROG), and Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).

Air service providers Delta and Envoy, a subsidiary of American Eagle, offer competitive flight prices, Griffin adds. Tulsa International Airport is also a competitor.

“You just need to check early and often,” Griffin said. “That’s the only advice I can give you. We don’t have anything to do with the prices.”

The airport also does not have anything to do with operations of rental car companies, or else National Car Rental’s 4 p.m. closing time on Saturdays without arrangements made with the other two car rental companies could be altered.

The airport operates with a staff of 14 people, including grounds and maintenance, so when the bad winter weather strikes, Griffin and Airport Director John Parker also can be found behind snow plows late at night and into the early morning. At least five snow and ice events occurred this winter, though there is usually only one or two.

Opened in 2002 to replace another 50-plus-year-old terminal building, the Fort Smith facility has built a reputation as a connector that takes pride in its amenities. In 2005 the airport received an odd but prestigious honor in the form of Cintas Corporation’s America’s Best Bathroom. The bathroom continues to be upgraded, most recently with an automatic toilet seat paper wrapper.

Calls to two Fort Smith corporations, which often use the local airport for both their corporate jet and commercial flights, report good marks on both accounts.

Tracy Long, vice president of marketing for Baldor Electric Co., said the electric motor builders have used a hangar at the airport for more than 25 years.

“The team we work with is very professional and prompt whenever we have a question,” Long wrote in an email. “They are very proactive about letting us know when things are happening around the airport that may affect our schedules, like a runway closure. They make it very easy for us to do business out there.”

Kathy Fieweger, chief marketing officer for ArcBest Corp., said the ArcBest employees use the airport frequently, and it “serves the company very well.”

- Story and photo gallery:

Grand Rapids charter school uses aviation to entice, inspire students

A vintage Piper Cub airplane hangs from the cafeteria’s ceiling. Down the hall, a helicopter sits in a lobby-sized area. A nearby office showcases the military pilot career of the office-dweller. An oversized room at one end of the school holds stacks of under-construction model airplanes and tools. 

It has the feel of an aviation company’s headquarters.

But look closer.

There’s a high school student reading a book behind the helicopter. In a classroom, two freshman girls are dressed in Greek costumes as they lead their English class. In front of the school, parents drop off their children.

It’s the combination of aviation with a more traditional high school curriculum that attracts students to West Michigan Aviation, a charter high school in Grand Rapids in front of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Less than 4 years old, the school has more than 400 students and uses aviation across all content areas. Its focus is on the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math.The school doesn’t offer band or many sports.

“We want kids who like to tinker,” said Patrick Cwayna, the school’s CEO and the former longtime principal of East Grand Rapids High School. “We want to fill a niche.”

Students wear uniforms, and the school has seven-hour days.

Freshmen take electives that introduce them to aviation, and they specialize as they get older.

School officials see themselves as developing a talent pool for aviation and engineering schools.

In an English class, students might study flying-related poems. During a visit last spring, an introduction-to-aviation class was watching newsreel footage of airplane dogfights. Students can earn rewards of actual flight time.

“We can do so much for students because they are coming for a purpose,” Cwayna said. “We want students to succeed and go on to further education.”

The school was founded by Dick DeVos, one of the wealthiest men in Michigan, former gubernatorial candidate and nationally prominent Republican.

Before running for office, DeVos, and his wife, Betsy, had led a drive to get a voucher system approved by Michigan voters. He’d been active in the push for charter school expansion for several years.

“We really wanted to figure out how can we expand quality education options to all children, especially those who can’t afford traditional private schools,” DeVos told the Free Press.

Then came DeVos’ failed run for governor against Jennifer Granholm in 2006.

His wife encouraged him to stay involved and pair his passion for flying — he’s a jet aircraft and helicopter pilot — with education.

The school was hatched.

“It’s not about just training kids for aviation; it’s broader than that,” he said. “It’s a hook to get them involved in the school.”

DeVos began to put his school together. The school is self-managed but hired a firm to handle human resources.

“I chose to go the nonprofit route because I got tired of always having the criticism that everything I do was about profits,” DeVos said. “This school has cost me money. We’re west Michigan folks, and our goal is to impact kids in west Michigan.”

DeVos is proud of the diversity at the school: It is 78% male, 22% female — 67% white, 33% minority. There is a nationwide push to add more females and minorities to science and technology fields, where they are underrepresented.

DeVos also has brought in high-profile speakers such as retired four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Former President George W. Bush spoke at a fund-raising dinner in May.

The night of the school’s first open house, DeVos broke into a large smile as he drove into the school building’s parking lot to see a line around the building.

“I had no idea what to expect,” DeVos said. “To see that many people interested in it was amazing.”

Story, photos and video:

Columbiana County Airport (02G) to be repaved thanks to federal grant

LISBON - The Columbiana County Airport Authority will receive another federal grant for repaving. 

 County Commissioner Tim Weigle reported at this week's meeting the airport authority was recently awarded a $340,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to resurface taxiways and ramps. The airport has received FAA grants in the past for similar resurfacing projects.


Stakes get higher for Davis-Monthan noise critics

The budget fight in Congress over the planned retirement of the A-10 attack jet has reignited the debate over aircraft noise from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and renewed fears that louder jets will soon fly here.

For now, both D-M supporters and neighborhood noise critics are on the same side of one issue — both want the Air Force to keep the A-10 at the local air base.

But neighborhood critics and groups such as Tucson Forward oppose basing louder planes such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the much louder next-generation F-35 stealth fighter at D-M — even though experts say D-M’s future could be in jeopardy if it doesn’t win such new flying missions.

Robin Gomez, who represents the midtown Colonia Solana neighborhood on a local military-community relations committee, said he and other neighborhood advocates don’t want to see D-M closed, but its missions must be compatible with affected neighborhoods.

Warnings that D-M could close if new jets aren’t based there amount to fear tactics by D-M backers, Gomez said. He contends that units at D-M such as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group — the Air Force’s main aircraft-storage facility, known as “The Boneyard” — are too valuable to move.

“We’re assuming the base is not going to close because of the Boneyard,” Gomez said, adding that the base should pursue new missions such as cyber warfare and remote drone piloting to replace A-10 operation.

The stakes are high on both sides of the issue.

Base supporters, led by the DM50 and the Southern Arizona Defense Alliance, say that the Air Force’s plan to retire the A-10 would cost the community more than 2,000 of the base’s nearly 9,000 jobs and slash D-M’s annual local economic impact, estimated at $973 million last year.

If D-M is passed over in future F-35 basing decisions, backers say, its mission would be diminished and it would be more vulnerable to closure as the Pentagon seeks to cut overcapacity. A new round of the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) process could happen as soon as 2016, observers say.

Neighborhood advocates concerned about jet noise and safety say the A-10C Thunderbolt II “Warthogs” now based at D-M — the Air Force’s quietest fighter jet — are tolerable.

But they vehemently oppose plans to base more of the louder F-16 fighters at D-M as the A-10s are retired, as well as basing the F-35 here.

Under the Air Force’s plan — so far stymied by Congress — D-M would lose three squadrons of 83 A-10Cs and gain one 21-plane Reserve squadron of F-16s by 2019.
Operation Snowbird

Plans to base louder planes at D-M worry Rita Ornelas, who lives with some of the worst jet noise at her home in the Julia Keen Neighborhood. Initially built in the 1950s and ’60s, Julia Keen lies just beyond the northwest end of D-M’s runway, in the highest noise and safety-risk zones.

Ornelas describes the near-daily routine of A-10 “Warthog” attack jets taking off and landing over the neighborhood in the morning and again in the afternoon, one after another.

“The A-10s are a pain in the butt, but we tolerate them,” she said during a visit to her neighborhood, as A-10s thundered overhead.

The louder F-16s and the much louder F-35 are another matter. A small squadron of F-16s based at D-M are on alert for homeland-security duty, using engine afterburners on takeoff over the city.

“They make this thunderous noise when taking off — it shakes your house, it shakes the ground, it shakes you,” Ornelas said.

Besides the homeland-security planes, F-16s from the Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport occasionally fly in to D-M to be loaded with live munitions before training missions.

Visiting aircraft participating in Operation Snowbird — a joint training exercise that was expanded around 2002 — can create an even bigger noise problem, Ornelas and other neighborhood advocates say.

Louder planes, including F-18 Super Hornets, Marine Corps’ Harrier attack planes, and foreign Harriers and Tornado fighters have visited D-M as part of Operation Snowbird, which is hosted by D-M and managed by the 162nd Air Guard.

So-called “transient” aircraft can also rattle nighborhoods. Ornelas recalls one day last September when a group of eight F-18s stopped at D-M to refuel.

“It was terrible — the noise was continuous for 20 minutes,” she recalled.

Davis-Monthan has tried its best to stay engaged with the community and adjust its operations to minimize disruptions, said Scott Hines, D-M’s chief community liaison.

He noted that the base altered flight patterns and altitudes to the limits of safety to reduce noise over neighborhoods in response to the 2006 recommendations of a military-community compatibility committee. As a result, aircraft fly 86 percent higher over populated areas.

The base also changed helicopter routes, rerouted night flights and increased the use of airfields at Fort Huachuca and Gila Bend for practice landings.

But critics say D-M operations still are disruptive at times, and the arrival of the F-35 — which is about two to seven times louder than the loudest version of the F-16 used at TIA — would greatly expand the zone in which jet noise is considered “intrusive.” Last year, 19 Tucson neighborhood associations signed a letter strongly opposing any plan to bring F-35s to Tucson.

If the F-35 comes to D-M or the Air Guard base at TIA, Gomez said, densely populated neighborhoods surrounding the bases will suffer quality-of-life damage from noise, health issues — and increased safety risk.

In contrast, Gomez asserted that members of D-M support groups including the DM50 and the recently formed Southern Arizona Defense Alliance typically live far from jet-noise problems.

Brian Harpel, president of the DM50, acknowledged that he doesn’t live near enough to D-M’s flight paths to deal with serious noise issues, but he sees the base’s survival as a matter of economic security for Tucson, as well as a national-security issue.

“I don’t live under there, I don’t contend with the noise, I’ll be the first to admit that,” said Harpel, a commercial real estate broker. “But at the same time, I value D-M, I value our airmen and what they do across the world to keep us free.”
Inn owner anxious

D-M overflights already cover much of the city as the normal traffic patterns extend out over much of midtown, including Reid Park and higher-rent historic neighborhoods like Sam Hughes.

Susan Banner bought a historic house in the Sam Hughes neighborhood in 1999, just east of the University of Arizona, and in 2000 she opened it as a four-room bed and breakfast. At the time, flight operations over the house — more than three miles from D-M’s runway — were not a major concern, Banner said.

“It was a very random nuisance for the first five years, I’d say,” she said.

But as time wore on, the flights increased and so did the noise.

“It’s like a skin rash — it creeps up on you,” Banner said.

Banner plans to retire in the next few years and worries she will have trouble selling the inn, which was built in 1931, but she says she’s more concerned about the future of Tucson as a whole.

D-M’s backers often say “urban encroachment” threatens D-M and ask why those upset by jet noise don’t simply move away if they don’t like it.

First jets came in 1953

Charles Lindbergh helped dedicate what was then called Davis-Monthan Field in 1927, and it was used for civilian and military operations until converting solely to military use around 1941. D-M hosted heavy propeller-driven bombers during World War II, and the first jets didn’t come to D-M until 1953, when B-47 Stratojet strategic bombers and F-86A Sabre fighter jets arrived.

Neighborhood advocates say it’s D-M that has encroached on the city, pointing out that many Tucson neighborhoods were built well before D-M became a full-time military base.

But up until at least the mid-1950s, D-M still had a miles-wide buffer of desert between the base and most other development to the northwest, D-M’s Hines said.

The oldest subdivision in the Julia Keen Neighborhood was built in 1953 — then mostly surrounded by desert — and initially served as private, off-base military housing.

Keen Elementary School was built around the same time and taught neighborhood kids until Tucson Unified School District closed it despite widespread community opposition in 2004. The closure was approved by TUSD’s board at the urging of the D-M and the DM50, who feared it would hurt the base’s chances in the last base-closing round in 2005, according to district documents.
“Nobody had an idea”

Anne Gomez and her husband, Robin, moved into their Colonia Solana home near Reid Park in 2000 after inheriting it from her father. She said her father bought the land in 1953 and built the house in 1973.

“Nobody had an idea in ’53 what kind of airplanes they would be bringing in,” Anne Gomez said.

Robin Gomez, a former real estate agent in Virginia, said many people bought their homes before the state began requiring homebuyers to sign disclosures that a property was in a “military airport” zone.

Many of the homes in the Julia Keen neighborhood were passed down through generations, and many current owners can’t afford to move elsewhere, said Ornelas. Though some of Julia Keen’s mainly slump-block homes and condos are a little run-down, many are well-maintained and attractively landscaped.

Ornelas said that selling out and moving is not a viable financial option in the current market for her and many others.

“They say, ‘if you don’t like it why don’t you get out?’ How am I going to get out? How am I going to sell my house?” she said. “I’m 66 years old, I was disabled, now I’m retired. My husband just died, what am I supposed to do?”

Story and photo gallery: