Great Bend Fights to Keep Its Business Model

Dec. 26, 2017
Great Bend Municipal Airport sees its future challenged after the FAA didn't recognize the need for its current runway length.

Great Bend Municipal Airport (GBD) in Great Bend, Kansas, has seen plenty of changes since its founding.

Originally a B-29 training base during World War II, the airport has grown into a prime stop for general and business aviation fueling. Because of its location in central Kansas, the airport has become a growing mid-America fuel stop for jet aircraft.

But the airport’s business model is in danger after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opted to recognize GBD’s runway at 5,500 feet, which is well short of its current length of 7,851 feet.

“Based on the economics and the nature of wanting to keep this an economically viable enterprise for the city,” said Martin Miller, manager of GBD. “We thought at 5,500 feet we’re going to lose our economic viability and be reduced to a length that doesn’t permit the kind of traffic we’re getting.”

GBD is seeking $495,000 in funding from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) towards a $550,000 rehabilitation of the 2,300 feet of runway omitted from the FAA’s funding. KDOT awards the grants in January and Miller said it’s highly competitive, with the agency historically getting $30 million requests despite only having $5 million to allot statewide.

The runway — which is asphalt on top of World War II era concrete — had its last mill overlay in 2003, Miller said. When that project took place, he said the FAA only participated to 6,000 feet.
The runway will be 75 years old in 2018. After years of repairs and other work to keep them going, the airport needs to finally replace the original concrete.

“We’ve had Kansas DOT aviation support for that mill overlay back in 2003,” he said. “This time their metric comes back at 5,500 feet based on the traffic they’re tracking and we were unable to buy more time and justify with our traffic coming in satisfy the requirements to go longer on this cycle and use a ‘let’s get this done now’ type of project for the FAA.”

If they don’t get the grant from KDOT, Miller said they’re prepared to self-fund a smaller rehabilitation, which would be much less than the airport would like to have to tackle long-term maintenance issues.
“It would be a thinner overlay basically,” he said. “We’ll still make it work.”

The FAA will pay 90 percent of the costs for the 5,500 portion of the runway. While Miller said they’re glad to have the funding, the loss of traffic and revenues from fuel sales and collateral benefits of traffic coming in we’re pursuing the option of going in to rehabilitate the northern 2,351 feet alongside the FAA project to keep us at full length.

According comments Miller got from a Hawker pilot, even with all of the pavement the airport has now, there will be times when it’s too short. Reducing the length will put Great Bend out of the preferred airports for quick turns for light jets.

“With the facilities you have and the investment made to provide a prime location for coast to coast quick turns, it would be a shame to reduce the available runway length,” the statement reads.

Another pilot of a Cessna Citation II told Miller he refuels at GBD six to 10 times per year and will even stop when it was possible to make it back home because of the great job the FBO does servicing the aircraft. However, he mentioned that when fueling to max gross weight, when density altitudes exceed 4,000 feet, he would no longer be able to utilize the airport with shorter runways.

“We’ve been working on this for a number of years,” Miller said. “The underlying pavement is getting old and we’ve had a lot of issues so we finally got our place in line for runway replacement.”

The primary economics of the airport right now are fuel flow and the ramps. The type of traffic that constitutes about 70 percent of the fuel sales is transient cross country jet traffic.

“We see a lot of them because of online fuel price reporting and because of our location. So you’ve got price, location and runway length being the three driving factors of our economics. We’ll see cross county traffic like citations and Lears, a challenger will come in here.

Miller said there’s also a safety concern with the shorter runway. Great Bend has an elevation of 1,887 feet and it creates a safety concern, especially during summer density altitudes of 4,000 and higher.

About the Author

Joe Petrie | Editor & Chief

Joe Petrie is the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Aviation Group.

Joe has spent the past 15 years writing about the most cutting-edge topics related to transportation and policy in a variety of sectors with an emphasis on transportation issues for the past 10 years.

Contact: Joe Petrie

Editor & Chief | Airport Business

[email protected]


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