Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ready for takeoff; Ada Municipal Airport seen as critical long-term economic development strategy

Ada Municipal Airport runway. 


The city of Ada, and its partners at the state and federal levels, are investing in the Ada Municipal Airport because they see the facility as a long-term driver of economic growth. 

The airport, located two miles north of downtown Ada, just east of North Broadway at 2800 Airport Road, was created in 1929 and is owned and operated by the city.

The city has spent more than $1 million on improvements at the airport since 2002, but state and federal grants have added an additional $10 million.

Of the money spent on improvement projects, the overwhelming amount comes from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Oklahoma Aeronautical Commission — about 90 percent.

The city must furnish its share, about 10 percent, or it can’t receive grant money. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it deal.

“You get a certain amount of grant (money) a year,” said Yancy Wood, Ada Municipal Airport manager. “And you can bank it for two or three years, but if you don’t spend it, you lose it. And if you can’t match it, you lose it.”

According to the city, the airport provides fueling services, storage hangars and a fixed-base operator. It is the only jet-capable airport in Pontotoc County. The airport was recognized as the state’s best in 1999 and again in 2009. Two aeronautical industries — General Aviation Modifications, Inc. and Tornado Alley Turbo — are based there. It is also home to “one of the region’s best annual air shows,” according to the city.

There are about 50 hangars at the airport, and many people and businesses rent them from the city. New private hangar owners don’t lease hangars, but they do lease the land upon which they sit. It’s 16 cents per square foot per year.

In the latest fiscal year, hanger rent and lease revenue combined to generate about $125,000. The revenue stays in the city’s airport fund to help offset the cost of operations. Total cost of operations last year was $153,850.

Importance

Advocates say general-aviation airports, such as Ada Municipal Airport, open access to communities and provide economic development opportunities.

“I think a municipal airport is very important for growth,” said Lisa Bratcher, public information officer for the city. “Especially in more rural areas like ours. Economic development is a big part of Ada right now, and those people need to fly in.”

Don Childers, chairman of the Ada Municipal Airport Commission, agrees the airport is a critical component for economic growth.

“A lot of people don’t realize the importance of the airport, but it’s really vital for economic development,” Childers said. “Victor Bird, Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission chairman, always said, ‘Industry doesn’t come to town in a Greyhound bus.’”

Yancy Wood, a highly decorated combat pilot who retired from the U.S. Army in 2011 after 20 years of service, said there are a quarter of a million private planes in the United States.

“And they fly almost 200 million people around a year,” he said. “So, it’s like the biggest airline. We have 62 private planes here in Ada.”

Wood said some of those private planes are just used by residents for recreation, but the majority are used for business.

“When we invest, It’s nice to have the general public and their private planes, but really, we’re looking at business and economic growth,” he said. “Especially with Ada not having a four-lane highway. In that context, we’re isolated. We’re kind of an island. We are one of the largest cities in Oklahoma, probably, without a four-lane highway. So that makes the airport even more important for someone traveling here for a meeting or a conference or looking to invest. The airport is important.”

Improvements

There is an immense amount of construction going on at the airport right now. That includes construction of a new terminal and new entrance road and parking area. New water lines and sewer lines are being installed. Chickasaw Nation is building a new hangar, and Air Evac Lifeteam just relocated to Ada and is based at the airport.

“The more improvements we make to the airport, it comes full circle,” Lisa Bratcher said. “Some of it’s long range, some of it’s shorter range, but you have those companies and prospects. We have a lot of people looking at Ada. We are enticing businesses...(and) this enables them to come to a nice facility and stay. And it brings tax dollars into our town by them staying in hotels...as they’re searching and looking at Ada. The more we do to improve this area, it will benefit all of us. It’s a full-circle, long-term thing.”

A major project is the new terminal building, which was funded in 2014. The cost for the project is $1,295,305. The state provided $500,000, while the cost to local taxpayers was $545,305. The city furnished $295,305. Ada Jobs Foundation provided $250,000. Ada Jobs Foundation is funded by Proposition 2, a one-fourth of a cent sales tax that is dedicated to economic development activities. The Chickasaw Nation also contributed $250,000.

Officials said the old terminal building is fraught with problems, and would be a very expensive refurbishment. The new terminal is nearing completion.

The ability to create a new terminal came from a windfall of sorts. Wood said when other cities were offered money from the FAA, they were not prepared to build, so they lost the funds.

He said Ada is always prepared for improvements, so it was granted the money.

A new road to the terminal is also nearing completion, as is a new parking/drop-off area.

City workers constructed the road, parking area, stairs and a wheelchair ramp at the airport, which the city said saves money over hiring an outside contractor to do the work.

Roy Cosar, project director, praised the work city employees have done.

“City employees did it all, except for (the new terminal building),” Cosar said. “But every single infrastructure, they’ve done an excellent job. People need to know that this saved the city a lot of money. Plus, you’re putting local guys to work instead of bringing contractors in. You’re feeding families in town.”

Wood said grant money from the FAA was acquired to pay for materials to construct the parking area and entrance road. The city’s 10 percent contribution was in the form of manned labor.

“It’s going to save the city about $300,000 doing it that way, rather than paying a contractor $600,000,” Wood said.

The Chickasaw Nation is building a state-of-the-art hangar near the new terminal, which will house four planes.

Air Evac Lifeteam has relocated to Ada. It has a helipad at the airport and its hangar building is made of the same materials as the new terminal. Air Evac plans to hire 14 additional employees.

Air Evac moved to Ada so it will be closer to the source of most of its calls, senior program manager Steven Bates told The Ada News in April. He said the move would reduce the air ambulance service’s response time, which is critical for patients suffering a heart attack or other medical emergency.

The financials

Since 2002, the total amount of money spent on airport projects — from federal, state and local sources — is $11,189,294. Of that total, the cost to local taxpayers was a little more than $1 million. Most of the funds came from federal ($8,449,351) and state ($1,438,758) sources.

In 2002, there were two major projects at the airport. First was the installation of perimeter fencing. The total cost was $166,667. Of that amount, the local share was $16,667. Grants funded the remaining $150,000.

The second project improved the runway safety area at a total cost of $770,334. The federal share was $693,300. State funds of $38,517 were also used with a matching local share of the same amount.

In 2003, several improvements cost a total of $439,740. Federal, state and local shares were $393,984, $18,730 and $27,026 respectively.

Those improvements included the reconstruction of Taxiway C, installation of a omni-directional lighting System at the end of Runway 17, installing reflective taxiway signs through the airport and removal of the visual approach path indicator and replacing it with a precision approach path indicator at Runway 17.

An asphalt overlay and remarking the primary runway in 2005 cost a total of $1,217,490. The local cost was $191,370, with federal money at $402,354 and the largest share coming from the state at $624,216.

However, the city later sued two companies who worked on the primary runway — Horizon Engineering and Cummins Construction Co. The FAA and the OAC provided the funds for the project, but stipulated the city should use a certain type of asphalt, which was specified in the city’s contract with the two companies.

The companies did not use that kind of asphalt for the project or conduct required sampling and tests, according to the lawsuit. As a result, the FAA and the OAC required the city to reimburse the agencies for the grant funds, which has since been repaid.

The city filed suit in 200, and settled with the two companies in 2015 for $700,000.

Mayor Guy Sewell said at the time of the settlement — which was the result of several months of negotiations — if the city continued to pursue the case, the resulting court costs would consume any additional settlement funds.

“So I think most of us agree that $700,000 is the best outcome that we can expect,” he said in 2015.

However, the total amount the city spent in legal fees was $230,462.11.

A two-phase airport project was conducted in 2007 and 2008.

Phase one in 2007 was the reconstruction of the main apron and parallel taxiway system at a cost of $3,458,309.

The federal share was $3,283,969, the state contributed $86,420 and the city contributed $87,920.

Phase two in 2008 was reconstruction of and realigning the parallel taxiway system and installing medium intensity taxiway lights. The cost was $3,160,426. Federal money provided the bulk of the funding at $3,000,979. The state contributed $78,973, while local tax money of $80,473 rounded out the rest.

In 2010, the city acquired land for approaches (an engineering study for future land acquisition for approach protection). The cost to the city was $3,745, while federal funding of $71,165 provided the rest for a total of $74,910.

In 2012, an update of the airport master plan study cost $200,000. The federal cost was $180,000, while the city of Ada spent $20,000.

Reconstruction of the taxi lane pavement in 2013 cost $102,119. The state provided $91,902, while the city provided $10,211.

As well as the construction of the new terminal building, another 2014 project was slated at a total cost of $304,000. Federal funding provided $273,600, while the city’s cost was $30,400. The project included a preliminary design of apron construction (An apron is a defined area on an airport intended to accommodate aircraft for purposes of loading or unloading passengers or cargo, refueling, parking or maintenance), improving the runway safety area, rehabilitation of runway and rehabilitate runway lighting.

The future

City and airport officials are always preparing for future growth at the airport, which sits on about 750 acres of land.

“A lot of it is just sitting there, not being used,” Yancy Wood said. “We have a plan for an industrial park. There have been some economic studies. Ada Airport is kind of unique in that we have all this land, and the aviation industry is a growing industry, and this would be a perfect place for maintenance and parts, some studies have shown.”

The area where the industrial park would be is on the east side of the airport. And it doesn’t have to be aviation only. Any manufacturing entity could be located there.

Additionally, officials are preparing for growth on the west side of the airport, along North Broadway Avenue. Airport officials are planning to accommodate businesses and development in front of the airport along Broadway.

The city is also installing new water lines and sewer pipes at the airport, which will not only accommodate current businesses, but new businesses which might spring up in front of the airport.

The old entrance road will stay for the businesses currently there. In fact, after construction is complete, the old road will get an asphalt overlay. It is currently in poor shape, due to all the heavy vehicles going back and forth.

The road also leads to several hangars and two businesses. Tornado Alley Turbo, Inc., manufactures and installs turbonormalizing systems. General Aviation Modifications Inc. makes GAMIjector fuel injectors and other airplane improvement products. Both companies have planes flying in every day.

Nuts and bolts

The Ada Municipal Airport is an uncontrolled airport, which means there is no traffic control. Air traffic control is used at larger, much busier airports.

“There’s a common frequency, and we all talk on it and cooperate and know what the other guy is doing,” Wood said. “And that’s common. Most airports across the country are not controlled.”

Mack Smith, vice chairman of the Airport Commission, said Ada has one of the best airports in the state.

“We’ve got the best airport in the southern part of the state,” he said. “Other than Oklahoma City and Tulsa, this airport’s facilities and runway, we just outdo everybody in the state. And most people don’t even know it. That’s one of the reasons the Chickasaws located here (at the airport.) Because of the jet-capable runway, all its clearances on both ends and its proximity to town.”

Story and photo gallery:   http://www.theadanews.com

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