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Rising revenues, expansions have city weighing needs

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More planes are landing in Greenwood at the 230-acre, city-owned airport off County Line Road, filling up with more gallons of fuel, and three new businesses are renting hangars for their aircraft.

Since 2011, the Greenwood Airport has continued to earn more money off hangar rent and aircraft fuel.

Last year, the airport brought in $1.13 million in revenue, an 8 percent increase from the year before. City officials credit the increase in income to a change in leadership, which brought the airport under the city’s control.

Now, the city plans to renovate the airport taxiways and catch up on maintenance, such as fixing ripped awnings and rusty hangar roofs, that it hasn’t been able to pay for in the past.

The ultimate goal is that the airport would be an attractive entrance into the city and bring in enough money to pay all of its expenses, including building maintenance and salaries. Last year, the airport successfully covered its own costs, primarily with fuel sales and hangar rent income.

The airport is starting off this year with the equivalent of 25 percent of its $1 million budget set aside in savings, and more jets landing and taking off than ever before.

Total revenue went from $1.05 million in 2012 to $1.13 million in 2013. The 2013 operating expenses were $1.06 million.

The city has still covered the cost of some projects, which officials say is an investment into building a self-sustaining business.

The city spent $500,000 last year to build two new corporate hangars at the airport, and plans to invest about $35,300 toward a taxiway repair project, which the city would need approximately $670,00 in state and federal funds to do.

Those investments are on top of the $200,000 the city spent in 2011 to pay for grass mowing and wholesale fuel and another $200,000 in 2012 to buy a hangar and office building to rent.

One boost to the airport was a $1.1 million project, paid for primarily with a federal grant, that extended the runway 200 feet so jets could land in Greenwood.

The city paid for about $83,000 of that project. Now, that longer runway length will be published in flight manuals so pilots flying larger aircraft know they can safely land in Greenwood.

Already, the airport has more jets taking off and landing in Greenwood, from 1,152 in 2012 to 1,344 in 2013.

More planes landing at the airport means more fuel sold, more possible tenants for the hangars and more income for Greenwood.

That’s why the city has invested nearly $1 million on airport projects and hired its staff as city employees so the city could oversee fuel sales, spending and the employees over the past three years.

Previously, the city hired outside companies to run the airport, which had become less and less profitable, and those managers allowed the buildings and runway to fall into disrepair.

The city ended a contract with a management company in January 2013 and then hired all of the airport employees as city employees, making the airport a city department.

The city attorney and controller also have gotten more involved with the airport over the past two years, providing advice, for example, on management restructuring and helping set fuel prices.

A federally-funded project to extend the runway from 4,901 feet to 5,100 feet in 2012 has allowed the airport to land larger, corporate aircraft, which is what most of the jets are.

In prior years, a corporate plane might have landed at the airport once every two or three weeks, but that traffic has at least doubled in five years, with business travelers now steadily flying in at least once a week, airport manager Rusty Nichols said.

This year should be the year airport officials see the greatest increase in jet traffic due to the runway extension, though, because it wasn’t until February that the Federal Aviation Administration began publishing flight manuals listing the new runway length, board of aviation commissioners president David Kovach said.

The airport manager reports to the four-member board of aviation commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor.

Now, if a pilot who doesn’t know about Greenwood is interested in flying to the Indianapolis area and looking for airports with a runway length of at least 5,000 feet, the city airport will be published online and in print as an option, Kovach said.

Pilots use data from the Federal Aviation Administration to plan every flight, he said.

“Five thousand just seems to be the magic number that they seem to utilize,” Kovach said.

In 2013, the city paid for two new corporate hangars to be built and the airport has tenants lined up to fill them this year, he said.

Hangar rentals are the airport’s second-greatest source of income, after fuel sales. The city plans to make repairs to hangars as it can afford them, Kovach said. The airport board is making a priority list of projects.

The hope is that over the next few years the finances will continue to improve, more hangars will be repaired and rented, and the airport will be an attractive entrance into the community, he said.

The overall improved finances don’t mean torn awnings or rusty hangar roofs are getting fixed yet, but it does mean some repair projects and taxiway upgrades might happen this year, Kovach said.

Taxiway repairs require federal funding, which the city could get later this year, he said.

“It’s a lot, a lot better than it was,” he said.

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