When a man from Georgia arrived at the Indy South Greenwood Airport on Thursday morning, one of his first questions after signing documents for a rental car was “where should I eat breakfast?”
That may seem like an odd query to put to the airport manager, Lori Curless, but those are the types of questions she often receives and welcomes. She provided the man with several options, with him eventually settling on a nearby pancake joint.
Running an airport isn’t much different than running a hotel, as hospitality is an important part of the airport business, Curless said.
Steps taken in recent years to bring in additional flights and revenue have begun to pay off for what was formerly known as the Greenwood Municipal Airport. In 2012, the city lengthened the runway to 5,100 feet, allowing for more jets to land. Three years later, officials eliminated landing fees, becoming the first airport in the Indianapolis area to do so. Last year, the airport changed its name, becoming Indy South Greenwood Airport, a move designed to highlight its Indianapolis ties to visitors unfamiliar with the area.
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The result: flight numbers and fuel sales have risen steadily during the past few years capped by about a 22 percent increase in jet flights and a nearly 68 percent increase in jet fuel sales in 2016. Those numbers should continue to rise in 2017 as the airport secured a contract with an air cargo service which began making daily flights out of the airport in December, Curless said.
Castle Air, which uses the Greenwood airport to make deliveries for DHL and Fedex, has at least one flight every day. That may not seem like much, but fuel costs alone from those flights will give the airport more than $50,000 a year, enough to hire an additional employee or put toward repairs and renovations, Curless said.
Getting Castle Air on board was the result of networking efforts Curless has began since becoming the airport director several years ago. She met the Ohio-based passenger, cargo transportation and aircraft maintenance company at National Business Aviation Association conferences.
What Curless found when she first started attending these conferences was that introducing herself as being with the Greenwood Municipal Airport just drew blank stares, especially from out-of-state or out-of-country businesses. Then she started attaching Indianapolis to her introduction, and found that connection allowed her to make more progress.
Now that the name change is official, when new airport directories are released, pilots looking to fly to Indianapolis will be more likely to choose the Greenwood airport, Curless said.
“We have a great asset that has been underutilized,” Greenwood Redevelopment Commission President Brent Tilson said. “Now that it is being re-invested in and redeveloped, the demand is coming.”
Curless described herself as the welcoming committee to the city for these new visitors.
Pilots and passengers entering the airport lobby are getting their first impression of Greenwood, and Curless wants to make sure it is a favorable one. That means walking out to greet them on the runway, providing a comfortable lounge with magazines, coffee and snacks, computers to help plot their next flights and areas to rest in between trips.
“We want our hospitality to be number one,” Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said. “It makes a world of difference, and they do a good job.”
Bringing in business travelers from all over the country is another opportunity to sell them on the possibility of relocating or expanding their business to the community, he said.
The connection to Indianapolis isn’t distant. From the airport, one just has to cross north over County Line Road to reach Indiana’s capital. In fact, the airport is the closest one to downtown Indianapolis, Curless said.
To accommodate more businesses, such as Castle Air, the airport needs more hangar space, and the redevelopment commission has approved spending $1.5 million for two more corporate hangars and other improvements.
While property tax dollars pay for those projects, the goal is for the airport to be entirely self-funded. The airport brings in enough revenue to cover its operating expenses, and is putting the extra money it earns back into improvements, Curless said. The airport brought in $983,000 in 2016 with $872,000 in operating expenses, with another $120,000 spent on making hangar improvements.
The new hangars — which will add 7,800 square feet — will increase the airport’s available corporate hangar space by 12 percent, Curless said.
Other planned improvements include better runway lighting, which will make the airport safer and more accessible during poor weather conditions, a new GPS system, and restrooms near the corporate hangars, she said.
“The redevelopment commission is committed to this important asset,” Tilson said.
The financial investments, good marketing and good management is what led to the turnaround the airport has experienced the past five years, he said.
Since making a massive array of improvements during the past several years, the Indy South Greenwood Airport has seen significant increases in its jet traffic.
Jet and turbine flights:
Jet fuel sales
2015: 65,247 gallons
2016: 109,152 gallons
Source: Indy South Greenwood Airport