Vance, Regional Airport Cooperation 'What Right Looks Like'

March 21, 2022

Mar. 19—Johnson quote

Enid Woodring Regional Airport often is referred to as Vance Air Force Base East for a reason.

The airport is used extensively by the Air Force for a number of projects. Col. Jay Johnson, 71st Flying Training wing commander, said the base and the community have a strong relationship.

"In my 23 years in the Air Force, I've never seen a local community put the resources into a regional airport that benefit us as much as Enid," Johnson said. "We couldn't do what we do without Woodring. It defines the right way to do city and federal cooperation."

There are Vance planes at Woodring every day, Johnson said.

'We're special here'

The cooperation was seen two years ago when the center runaway was being repaired at Vance. Woodring was used as an auxiliary runway.

"Because of that we didn't miss the training of one pilot," Johnson said. "We were able to renovate the outside and inside runways. We just parked at Woodring full time. It is really difficult to articulate how important Woodring is to us."

Enid City Manager Jerald Gilbert said the relationship is allegiant.

"Everybody says their relationships are close, but this one is unlike any other," he said. "I know Lawton likes Fort Sill and Midwest City likes Tinker, but we're special here."

Gilbert said studies have shown Vance has a nearly $1 billion impact on Enid, with Woodring comprising "tens of millions" of that total.

Woodring has allowed Vance to operate seven days a week. Pilots can train at Woodring on weekends. On Sunday cross country return flights — which can take four to six hours — often see Vance pilots flying out of Woodring, Johnson said.

"This is something that people don't think about," said Woodring airport manager Keston Cook. "It (Woodring) offers them a place to utilize weekend training. It's a lot cheaper for them to base their aircraft out of Woodring for the weekend than it is for a full fly weekend at Vance where they would have to pay overtime (for support services)."

Woodring's 'biggest customer'

Cook estimates anywhere from 50 to 60% of the operations at the airport are military related. Forty percent of the airport's fuel sales are for the military.

"They are definitely are biggest customer," Cook said. "They utilize us quite frequently on weekends depending how much behind they are or how busy they are. It's not uncommon to see 10 to 12 T-6s out there."

The fuel sales, Johnson said, helps both sides financially.

Johnson estimates out of 45,000 activities ongoing at Woodring, about 35,000 are related to Vance.

Cook said Woodring had its biggest spike in military business during the height of the COVID pandemic, which saw a lot of airports shutting down.

"We were the only civilian base a lot of those military bases could fly to," Cook said. "We saw an increase close to 100 percent in Vance traffic during COVID. It's closer to normal now, but it's still anywhere from 25 to 50 percent busier with the military than we were before COVID."

Constant communication

Cook said Woodring and Vance are in constant communication. He attends meetings at the base at least once a month.

"Sometimes it's just to make sure that everything is being communicated back and forth," he said. "If they got big plans where they will need more space or extra aircraft at Woodring, they will let us know."

Cook said Woodring acts almost like a fourth runaway for Vance on weekdays, especially for touch-and-go landings for T-6 aircraft.

Woodring also was able to extend a runaway to 8,000 feet so it could be used for T-38s.

There are joint 120- by 120-foot hangers with a 90-foot wide door that can open at both sides to pull planes through, and those are used to help Vance with weather evacuations. He said the hanger can handle as many as 12 T-6 or six T-1 aircraft, depending on placement.

Johnson said Vance has 208 planes, but only 100 can be housed in hangars during inclement weather.

" This give us the space to protect them," Johnson said. "It's no small feat."

Cook said Woodring's main ramp can hold as many as 20 T-6 aircraft. The two other ramps at the airport can hold as many as 12, he said.

'What right looks like'

A new $27 million terminal building at Woodring, funded in part by Oklahoma Strategic Military Commission, is used a lot by Vance.

It has a planning room, a big conference room and two smaller conference rooms attached.

Woodring also is used both as a stop for fuel and food at the airport restaurant.

"Any of the flights — T-1s, T-6s and T-38s — can sit in there and be debriefed," Cook said. "There are white boards in there and a big conference table. There are a couple of computers in there if they need it."

Johnson said the amenities are like home.

"You look inside that flight room, and it's very similar to what we have at Vance," Johnson said. "It allows us to brief and define a flight."

Woodring has been the starting point for several T-38 flyovers.

Johnson said the close relationship was the reason behind Vance celebrating its 80th anniversary at Woodring.

"We wanted the public to meet our airmen and observe our culture," Johnson said. It's an a prime example of what right looks like."

Woodring is working closely with Vance when it comes to the regional airport's five-year plan.

The top three priorities are:

—A full reconstruction of the crosswind runway, the only one in the Northwest Oklahoma region, Cook said. It would be too small to be utilized by the military but "is a great asset for small planes to fly in."

—Rehab of the main runway for the 2024-25 fiscal year. Cook said it's a project that will require some sealing of cracks.

—Rehab and reconfiguration of the main terminal ramp. It will be squared off from its semi circle shape. They would be adding second connection taxi way to the main runaway.

Both Woodring and Vance are working with the Oklahoma Military Strategic Commission to get funding for three projects.

"These are priorities that align us a lot with what Vance needs and how we can help," Cook said.

Those priorities include:

—A tower display station that would feature the same radar as Vance.

"It would help them with spacing and our capacity in our runways," Cook said. "It's a big safety help and would make sure there is no conflicts in spacing. We have a whole bunch of T-6s doing circles over airports and touch and goes with some of that lower aviation general traffic."

—A south ramp reconstruction. Cook said it's in decent condition but could use some work. He said it would be a full reconstruction and would fix issues with water drainage that flows toward hangers on that ramp.

"This would be an opportune time to correct that problem, and there will be some new hangers for tenants as well," Cook said.

—A new joint hanger that would basically be the same size as the current one but with only one door.

"This would be a big access area to store aircraft during weather evacuation," Cook said.

"All of those projects would benefit us as well as Woodring to expand operations," Johnson said. "We could use the hanger improvement, and the south ramp would be better suited for our jets. It would be good to have that radar display in the tower at Woodring."

They are looking for funds through grants, the FAA, the federal government and discretionary funds from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

Gilbert said the city is working closely with Enid Development Authority to create more business opportunities for the airport.

"We're blessed to have the Air Force base," he said. "We're constantly trying to make improvements out there (at Woodring) for our regional traffic."

Cook smiles when he hears Woodring being referred to as " Vance East."

"It's real busy," he said.

Campbell is a former sports writer and current part-time writer for the News & Eagle.

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