Johnson County Airports Among Busiest in Kansas

Many people know what Johnson County Executive Airport and New Century AirCenter have to offer, but they're in the minority.

Mar. 7--Johnson County may be home to the second- and fourth-busiest airports in Kansas, but Lee Metcalfe considers them local secrets.

Metcalfe, executive director of Johnson County Airport Commission, said many people know what Johnson County Executive Airport and New Century AirCenter have to offer, but they're in the minority.

"There's a whole bunch more who haven't got a clue, and most of them don't have a reason to have a clue," he said. "We're kind of a hidden asset as far as the majority of the people are concerned."

Last year, executive airport, 151st Street and Pflumm Road, had 78,000 operations, meaning take-offs and touchdowns. New Century, at 175th Street and Interstate 35, had about 58,000, making it the fourth-busiest airport in Kansas.

The executive airport, second to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport in terms of traffic in the state, primarily serves clients with business aircraft and those who fly recreationally and for personal travel.

Metcalfe said about 30 percent of the flights at the air center are training flights. Two flight schools, one at Kansas City Aviation Center and the other, Air Associates of Kansas, are based at the airport. LifeNet and several charter services also are based at the air center.

The executive airport is on about 500 acres of land with a 4,100-foot single runway, parallel taxiways and a federal air traffic control tower.

Along with the standard aircraft services, airport businesses offer air charter, aircraft sales and flight instruction services from smaller single-engine aircraft up to corporate jets.

The airport was built as a naval auxiliary field during World War II. It was deeded to Olathe in 1951 and from the city to Johnson County in 1967. The Johnson County Commission created the Johnson County Airport Commission to manage, operate and improve the airport.

New Century has a 7,300-foot main runway with a 5,000-foot crosswind runway. Services at New Century include two full-service fixed base operators on the field providing fuel, lubrication and other services for all classes of reciprocating and turbine aircraft, seven days a week. Other services include air charter, aircraft sales, aircraft maintenance and flight training.

New Century originally was built as Olathe Naval Air Station in the early 1940s and served as the continental headquarters of the Naval Air Transport Service, the navy's in-house airline. The Airport Commission acquired the site in 1973, renaming it Johnson County Industrial Airport. The center's current name was adopted in 1995 to better reflect the advanced technology industries located at the New Century Business Park.

The Johnson County Airport Commission is in the process of updating master development plans for the two airports for the Federal Aviation Administration, a process that takes place every 10 years. While the long-range plan for the executive airport is to simply preserve it as it is, the plan for NewCentury is being revised.

The air center's original master plan allowed for scheduled airline service. A feasibility study conducted in 2001 said otherwise.

"The market just isn't big enough here in the Kansas City area to support two airports with scheduled airline service," Metcalfe said, citing Kansas City International Airport as the other such airport.

All provisions directly tied to having scheduled air service at the air center now are being removed.

"We are leaving in a provision in that their will be an area on the airfield where we would have the land available to do a passenger terminal and have air cargo," he said. "We think that still is a possibility for us."

The two airports also have a consistent economic impact on the county. A 1996 study reported 150 employees at executive airport directly involved in aviation. On the airfield at New Century, there are about 120 employees. There are an additional 200 tied to flight operations for corporations such as Garmin and Honeywell. An additional 4,000 employees are added among the 42 businesses and large corporations in the industrial park. Sprint has about 1,600 employees based out of the park.

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