Monday, October 31, 2016

Brazil Clay County Airport: flying high or wings clipped?

Owen Holmes, 4, helps his grandfather, Ray Jones, check fuel for water in his plane at the Brazil Clay County Airport.

(This is part two of a two-part series about the history and current state of the Brazil Clay County Airport.)

Brazil Clay County Airport Board President Ray Jones says that some people think the local airport is nothing but a bunch of “good ole boys who just sit around drinking beer and coffee on the weekends. But he says that’s absolutely not true.

A lot of people don’t even know that Brazil/Clay County has an airport. Those who are aware have varied opinions about its purpose and usefulness. Some say it’s a waste of taxpayer money and should be closed.

“I don’t want it closed but I really question why my tax dollars are going to support an entity that’s used by such a small amount of people,” Brazil resident Susan Crick said. “I’d really like to understand the benefits to our county.”

The county’s budget for the airport in 2015 was around $49,000. For 2016 it was lowered to $33,500. It’s being cut to about $31,000 for 2017. The airport takes in about $9,000 a year. Their revenue sources are hangar rentals, leasing 18 acres of land to a local farmer and from fuel sales. There are 20 hangar spots; nine are private, 11 are rentals. Of those 11, one rents for $75 a month and the others are $60 a month. Jones said the $9,000 is part of the total annual budget. So, in 2017, if the airport raises $9,000 the county will be providing just $22,000.

Dissenters think the airport is just draining the county of money with no benefits. They wouldn’t care if the airport were closed. Jones says that the Board and other county residents feel that $22,000 is a very small investment and that the airport gives back much more than that to the community. They think it has great value and potential and want it to grow.

When asked how they might increase funds, Jones said they’re having a fly-in and Young Eagle Flights next year. A Fly-In invites pilots from all over to fly in to the airport to visit with other pilots and their families and see other planes. Food is available. The public is invited and it gives them an opportunity to see the airport, how it functions and observe some of the aircraft. Plane rides might be offered.

Young Eagle Flights is a program that offers free rides to kids ages 8 through 17. The airport will have an open house inviting the general public and pilots from other airports for breakfast or lunch.

The airport does provide benefits for the city and county. Several local businesses use the airport to increase their efficiency and cut costs.

Ken Maurer from PDF said, “Many of our business trips would take three days. By using the local airport we can do it all in one day. That saves us a lot of time and money.”

Companies using the airport are Interior Fixtures, Kent Booe Trucking, PDF, Brickcraft and Duke Energy. These companies employ many county residents who spend their money in Clay County which helps maintain the local economy. The cost savings afforded by the airport help in providing some of these jobs.

Indiana State University has used BCCA for training purposes. Occasionally the military has used it; a couple Blackhawks have landed there. And it’s been used for emergency landings. A lot of crop dusting originates from this airport with the local Ceres Solutions delivering the needed fuel and chemicals. Again, this helps keeps local money in the community.

Air Evac Life Team is located at the Brazil Clay County Airport. They came here in 2004. Program Director Lori Mayle said a big part of the reason Air Evac located in Brazil was because of the airport. Air Evac goes to small towns where air medical service is limited. Local airports are a drawing card because they provide safe in and out air traffic.

Potential uses of the airport are limitless. Kip Clark, a Clay County resident and Airport Board member said, “We as a community need to embrace our airport. It’s a potential crown jewel of our county. It supports local industry which utilizes it for their operations. And we have not fully utilized its economic and educational capabilities.”

Clark, who is a pilot and Commander of the 181st Intelligence Wing, said his interest in aviation was piqued when he was eight or nine years old and someone took him for an airplane ride at the Brazil Airport. He thinks many of today’s youth are unaware of the existing opportunities and careers available coming from the monstrous growth taking place in the field of aviation.

He believes the drone industry and unmanned systems will grow dramatically in the next few years. Clark would like to see an aviation class offered at the county high schools to give kids a chance to see what’s out there.

Dr. Tim Rayle, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction for Clay Community Schools, says that could be a possibility. Rayle had plans to talk with ISU in October and maybe later with Ivy Tech Community College about the possibility of classes for aviation and unmanned systems. When asked why he didn’t talk to the BCCA Board about this he said he had talked to them in the past, several years ago, and there appeared to be no interest from the students.

Clark says that students can’t get interested in something they don’t know exists. He wants to make contact with Dr. Rayle soon and hopes they can work together on this.

Most of the County Council members want to keep the airport open. But they would like to see it become self-supporting. Jones said if they could get enough money to asphalt the tarmac, about $25,000, and seal coat the runway and repaint the lines, about $19,500, there’s a possibility the airport could then become self-sufficient.

County Council President Larry Moss does not want the airport closed. “I’m not in favor of shutting it down,” he said. “We need to get it operating at a reasonable budget. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do long term. I’m an optimist and hope we can keep it open.”

County Councilwoman Toni Carter said, “Most of my constituents that have talked to me about this issue feel like the airport only supports a small group of people and it’s not really a big benefit to the county. It’s all about the funding,” Carter continued. “If they can be self-sufficient that’s great. If they can’t then the county needs to make some decisions.”

The BCCA Board definitely wants it to remain open. They believe it’s a tremendous asset to the county and they’re working very hard to keep it active and viable.

“There’s an old saying,” Jones said. “When a pilot loses his license it’s like losing his dog, and close to losing his wife. I’m not making light of the situation,” he continued. “I really think if Clay County lost this airport it would be like clipping the wings of the community.”

Board member Carl Trout said “One mile of road takes you a mile. A mile of runway can take you anywhere in the world.”


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