Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Flight plan: City officials chart Dillant–Hopkins Airport (KEEN) future

At a time when it seems like the future of Keene’s Dillant-Hopkins Airport is at a crossroads, the City Council has been presented with an updated master plan to keep the North Swanzey facility running for years to come.

But about $18 million of federal, state and city money is going to have to be invested in the airport over the next 20 years to keep it operating, the plan notes.

The master plan, which is updated every 10 years, includes an inventory of airport buildings, equipment and facilities, their conditions and recommendations for improvements for the next two decades. It also includes predictions of the number and types of aircraft that may use the airport in the coming years.

Even if all the projects listed in the plan aren’t completed within the blueprint’s 20-year time frame, they need to be included for the federal government to fund them, according to Ervin Deck.

Deck is senior aviation planner with Stantec, which did the most recent plan update.

As of 2010, Dilliant-Hopkins Airport provided $6 million annually to the Monadnock Region’s economy, according to a study by Boyd Group International, a Colorado-based aviation data collection company.

However, the airport is home base for fewer than 100 aircraft and hasn’t had passenger airline service for years, according to the master plan update.

In recent years, the airport’s viability has been questioned by some city officials and residents, especially as people living in the Edgewood neighborhood, which abuts the facility, protest tree removal from the neighborhood and from other land next to the airport.

Questions have also been raised about the development potential of the airport, which sits on approximately 1,000 acres.

About 28,000 flights were recorded either taking off or landing at the airport last year, and that number is expected to remain generally stagnant in years to come, according to the plan. The same can be said for the number of aircraft based at the facility, which is about 80. They range from single-engine planes to mid-sized corporate jets, the plan says.

The airport is home to Monadnock Aviation, which operates a flight school and handles several air travel-related services, including aircraft rentals, charter flights, maintenance, fuel and car rentals.

The airport is also used regularly by C&S Wholesale Grocers, one of nine businesses in Keene that employ more than 100 people, according to the plan.

Airport Manager John G. “Jack” Wozmak told city councilors last week that he has been reaching out to businesses about whether they want to use the airport for their home operations.

He has already connected with 25 to 30 companies, but “economic development is like fishing,” he said.

“We just have to keep trying.”

He added that airport traffic is up, and word is spreading about the facility, especially with The Flight Deck restaurant now there.

“What will come of it, I don’t know,” he said.

City Manager Medard K. Kopczynski appointed Wozmak airport manager in 2016.

Wozmak and Deck presented the master plan update to the full City Council last week.

The council’s planning, licenses and development committee is scheduled to review the report at its meeting tonight. The committee may also make a recommendation that the full council adopt the plan at the council’s next meeting.

A to-do list

Work that’s needed at the airport in coming years is divided in the master plan into short-, intermediate- and long-term projects.

They include reconstructing and realigning runways and removing obstructions approaching those runways. Removing some of the obstructions will involve securing easements to take down trees on private land, the plan says.

Other projects would be to install a fence to keep wildlife out of all areas of the facility and move an instrument system that measures wind flow.

The airport, which has some chain-link fencing mostly by the terminal area and along Airport Road and Old Homestead Highway, was the site of a plane versus deer crash last year.

As for the instrument system — called an Automatic Surface Observation System — it wasn’t installed in the correct location and needs to be move to record accurate wind readings, the plan says.

The plan also recommends expanding the aircraft parking area by the terminal building, building a new aircraft fuel farm, reconstructing a taxiway and making improvements to hangars and lighting.

Another project the airport could benefit from is the installation of a solar farm, according to Deck, who said he has identified at least 80 acres between five locations that could host solar arrays. The areas aren’t required for aviation development, and the FAA has said that the arrays wouldn’t interfere with air traffic, he said.

Ward 3 Councilor Terry M. Clark said that while Keene underwrites the cost of running the airport, the master plan notes that the facility is a regional airport by definition.

The National Plan for Integrated Airports System classifies Dillant-Hopkins as a general aviation airport, which means it can be used by the public, but doesn’t have scheduled airline service or has fewer than 2,500 passengers boarding planes there per year.

In another report, the FAA categorized it as a regional airport. That means it (s)upports regional economies by connecting communities to statewide and interstate markets,” according to the 2012 report.

Clark said he wondered if having the airport classified as “regional” presents an opportunity to engage other area communities to help contribute to the cost of running and further developing it.

The city budgeted $614,298 to fund the airport in 2016-17, with $459,949 being offset by revenues from usage of the facility.

Wozmak said the conversation about the airport’s future has already started; the advisory committee for the airport master plan has talked a bit about what the airport’s operations could be going forward. That includes whether it should be overseen by an airport commission, he said.

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