Saturday, May 26, 2018

Navasota Municipal Airport (60R): A pilot-friendly community



In the 1940s, what we now know as the Navasota Municipal Airport was once called the Navasota Aerodrome, according to Steve Austin, a local business owner and pilot of more than 30 years.

All airports are aerodromes, but not all aerodromes are airports. An aerodrome is anywhere planes can take off and land, even a flat grassy area and they have no specific rules other than those involving basic safety. In contrast, an airport must obey guidelines set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, including runways, hangers and other things we are used to seeing as well as some unseen infrastructure.

Located approximately two miles southwest of downtown Navasota on State Highway 105 West and owned by the city, the airport is an unattended public-use “General Aviation airport with one, 75-foot by 5,003-foot asphalt paved runway with a full length parallel taxiway.”

Driving through the airport gate, all that can be seen are runways and several unadorned box-like metal buildings, hangers.  T-hangers are “airplane garages” that hold one plane.  Hangers that hold more than one are called box hangers.  The city owns the land, but the pilot pays for his hanger and pays rent to the city for the land. 

“Some cities will take the hanger from the pilot after a certain number of years which is a big deterrent for the pilots,” said Michael Dearing of Spinner Aviation, saying that Navasota does not hold to that particular policy

According to Dearing, the city has done things through the years to improve the airport, such as lengthening and resurfacing runways.

“It’s a nice high-quality runway,” said Dearing. “There were some airplanes that were in disrepair and the city put policies in place that got those moved out.”  

Other policies improved safety, such as forbidding sky diving.  Since the airport is unmanned, meaning it has no tower, pilots would have no way of knowing that someone had just jumped from a plane.

Spinner Aviation is the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) responsible for airport services in Navasota. The FBO is responsible for fueling and other airport maintenance, which includes maintaining the city-owned courtesy car for visiting pilots. The military and other services use the airport to train their pilots in the use of their aircraft, such as small planes and helicopters.

Several pilots said they enjoy flying to Navasota’s airport because of the pleasant landscape that is away from the big cities.  They also like being away from an air traffic control tower, which means that they must communicate via radio with other pilots in the area when they are preparing to takeoff or land. 

Even pilots who fly for a living with United Airlines have been seen enjoying themselves at Navasota’s airport.  While working, the pilots fly all over the world; but to relax, they fly in to the Navasota Airport, meet their friends and go to one of Navasota’s restaurants.

Dearing said that the airport is becoming a “$100 hamburger destination”- a term used to refer pilots who will fly a short distance to socialize and have a meal.  By the time one factors in what it costs to operate a small plane, that meal can be very expensive.

Many using the airport are from the surrounding area, like pilot Darren Cook of Magnolia. 

 “People assume that the private pilots are rich and they’re not,” said Cook. “The majority are middle-class.” 

He pointed to a plane that just landed and said, “That’s a 1969 model and probably cost about $30,000 - $50,000.  Some middle-class people are driving SUVs that cost that much.” 

According to Scott Armstrong, of Navasota, pilots are trained in a manner that is similar to driver’s education.

“You go to ground school which is airport and flight operations [training],” said Armstrong. “You learn about Bernoulli's principle which basically is learning how airplanes stay in the air.”

Cook said that many private pilots are renting planes. Sam Armstrong of Millican attended Brazos Valley Flight Services in College Station to train and get his license. There they have different types of planes that are for rent, providing the opportunity to fly more than one type. Recently at Navasota, the Spinner Flying Club was established to give licensed pilots the use of a plane, while the cost is shared by everyone in the club.

“The Club lets people enjoy flying without the expense of owning their own plane,” said Dearing.  

Some pilots come to get their planes serviced by onsite airplane mechanic, Rodney L. Frazier of Rod's Aircraft Services who has a shop at the airport.  He is an independent contractor paid by the pilot.

Pilots just passing through may choose to take advantage of the clean, air-conditioned lounge maintained by Spinner Aviation. The lounge has wifi, a desk, table and chairs, sofa, refrigerator and restroom.

 “It’s a service that pilots like,” said Austin. “They may need to do some flight planning or check the weather.”

Dearing said that he would like the airport to be able to support pilots building their own planes in the near future. He said there are groups devoted to that hobby and that there are pilots at the airport who have built their own planes.

While driving near the airport, and other places such as hospitals, you may have noticed those red balls suspended on power or communication lines. Austin who is also responsible for airport security, said the balls are an aerial warning for pilots. If the balls have a light on top, they are called balisors.  Several balisors can be seen around the Navasota Municipal Airport, though the lights may be visible only from above.

Driving further into the airport, two large white fuel tanks can be seen.  One is for basic aviation gasoline, 100 LL, and the other is jet fuel, Jet A. Many use Navasota’s airport as a refueling stop which, according to Brad Stafford, Navasota City Manager, brings the city approximately $.05 per gallon. 

In the future, Navasota Municipal Airport may have an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), which may bring more aircraft to the airport because of insurance purposes and other regulations.  AWOS is primarily funded and controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division (TxDOT).

“Originally TxDOT had counted on the AWOS in Brenham to serve us; but there is a big difference between the weather in Brenham and Navasota,” said Stafford. “We’re between the two rivers which means we’re lower and get more cloud cover.” 

Navasota sits in a valley between the Navasota and Brazos Rivers.  This creates precipitation and other weather conditions that are important to pilots. According to Stafford, when TxDOT heard the city’s explanation, they agreed that Navasota needed its own AWOS. 

Stafford said the city has $400,000 already in reserve that represents the 10 percent matching funds required by TxDOT for capital improvement projects. 

Because the city owns the land, we can use that one time as the matching funds,” said Stafford. “When we did that runaway extension, the owner of the land adjacent to the airport donated a large acreage of land to the city.  TxDOT then pays the city for that land. The city still owns the land.  It’s basically treated as a cash balance as part of the matching funds.”

The money left over from the runway extension project went into the airport fund and can be used for future capital improvements such as AWOS.

According to Stafford, there is an RV park on airport property that must be moved before plans go forward.

“Currently, the city is getting revenue from the park because, by law, any money made on airport property must go into the airport fund, said Stafford. “So when the park goes away, the city will lose that revenue stream.  The best part is that taxpayers are not having to [pay] this large sum of money.  The majority of citizens are not pilots and the money is generated by the airport itself. That, plus the grant money means that the new weather system is not costing the taxpayers a large sum of money.”

For more information on the Navasota Municipal Airport, go to www.navasotatx.gov.

Original article ➤  http://www.navasotaexaminer.com

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