Ft. Wayne's air trade alliance

Ft. Wayne's air trade alliance Indiana airport overcomes setbacks and repositions itself in the process By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director April 2002 Skip Miller, A.A.E., executive director of airports WAYNE, IN - C.T...

"In the end the community benefited with the runway, the Cat 2 ILS, and we now have 450 acres that has become the international Air Trade Center that was purchased for Burlington to relocate to for its permanent facility. They couldn't take those things with them. So, consequently, we were left with some tangible assets that we're putting to work for us today in this community."

Kitty Hawk, meanwhile, has seen its fortunes take a downturn, but Miller remains optimistic that the current reorganization plan filed in February with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court will keep the carrier operating long term at Ft. Wayne.

Meanwhile, the development initiative has continued to evolve while the authority has continued to invest in the airport. Since its creation, the authority has attracted some $100 million in Airport Improvement Pro-gram dollars from FAA, says Miller, which has led to a total upgrade of the airfield. The terminal was gutted and rebuilt with the help of a $3 passenger facility charge. A new air traffic control tower is planned for 2003, and air carrier service continues to be strong with seven carriers providing service to six hubs.

Coordinating Efforts
"We've worked very hard with the city and the county," explains Miller. "Some of the airport is outside the city limits, so we have to work with both jurisdictional agencies for zoning for compatible development, and for industrial zoning such as the Air Trade Center.

Decision Time for a GA Airport

When does closing an airport make sense? To many, the answer is never. However, in Fort Wayne, IN, officials are grappling with the reality that its general aviation airport, Smith Field, may be beyond being "cost-justifiable."

Skip Miller, executive director of airports for the Ft. Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, says that a decision is expected soon on whether or not to keep Smith Field active. He points out that there are very valid reasons for closing the airport: the return does not justify the investment; it is too constrained to meet federal funding standards; and, perhaps most important, two nearby general aviation airports have seen considerable investment in recent years and offer users better alternatives.

Says Miller, "One of the linchpins, from a financial standpoint, is that it is not a federally eligible airport; it doesn't meet federal standards. Any revenue has to come from the international airport's revenues or another local pot.

"The FAA said, we'll fund an airspace determination study to see what would make it eligible for federal funding, and it essentially says that the crosswind runway [2,900 ft.] would need to be closed and the main 3,100-ft. runway would need to be decreased to 2,160 feet. That's not a lot of pavement, and it exacerbates the problem because then the question is, can it attract a viable fixed base operator? It really doesn't meet the commercial viability test now."

According to Miller, a study conducted 12 years ago determined that Smith was not cost-justifiable and recommended six sites for a new GA airport. The airport board subsequently passed a resolution that said it would not build a new airport, and would allow Smith Field to operate for ten more years at which time a determination would be made as to its long-term fate. The ten-year period ends in 2002, which coincides with the end of the lease term for the FBO, Cruise Aviation, which also operates at Ft. Wayne International and nearby DeKalb County Airport.

"The expiration of the FBO lease is a driving force to get a decision on what to do," says Miller.

Another critical determining factor, he says, is that some $8 million has been invested in improving neighboring DeKalb County and Huntington airports, offering GA users more viable alternate airfields. "They haven't remained stagnant," he says.

"They understand that the airport is every bit as important to the community as the interstate highway system. And they understand that it's not just a transportation facility but it's a major economic development facility. Between Kitty Hawk, the Air Guard, and all the other tenants, we are one of the largest employment centers in the region and we have an economic impact in excess of $373 million."

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