Archive for Thursday, December 21, 2006

Officials exploring own airport

County commissioner: Air access vital to economic development

December 21, 2006

Talk of a regional airfield in Leavenworth County is barely a whisper.

But in the future - at least according to some area officials - it could grow into a stronger voice.

There is no dedicated public airport in Leavenworth County. However, for decades the city of Leavenworth has contracted with Fort Leavenworth to use seven acres of Sherman Army Airfield for civilian use.

The Sherman airfield is about a mile north of Leavenworth, accessible through the military base. The leased airfield has a 5,905-foot runway, long enough to land a Boeing 737. The Army maintains the airfield.

Until recently, the city contracted with a fixed-base operator - a firm that ran the airfield. The city paid the airfield's utilities and part of the insurance. In turn, the FBO received rent from the hangars and could generate revenue through fuel sales, flying lessons, plane rental and airplane mechanic services.

In September, the FBO said it would cease providing services Dec. 31. City officials advertised for a new FBO but received no applications.

Last week at a workshop, the Leavenworth City Commission decided to keep the airfield open and to hire an individual to run the airfield until a new FBO is found.

Meanwhile, the city is restructuring an agreement to be more attractive to an FBO. For instance, it might include more subsidies or supplemental income. Robyn Stewart, Leavenworth assistant city manager, said the city didn't know how much it would cost to negotiate a contract with a new FBO.

Leavenworth County commissioners offered to contribute up to $20,000 for the FBO.

"We encouraged the city to renew the lease ... and then look at the possibility of a regional airport of some sort," Commissioner Clyde Graeber said.

Local airports are important, particularly where economic development is concerned, Graeber said.

And of course, he said, it's particularly important to have a local airfield now as the county is courting bioscience-related firms.

"They're going to want to come in and get out," Graeber said. "They're not going to want to take days to get in and out of Leavenworth."

While the Leavenworth City Commission is committed to keeping the airfield open, its members also are considering a different approach - developing a new airport.

"We all are in agreement to look at the possibility of a regional airport in this area," Leavenworth Mayor Laura Janas Gasbarre, said Monday.

Greg Kaaz, chairman of the airport advisory committee the past two years, said Sherman was a "nice airfield" but cautioned it belonged to the military.

"You have to play by the fort's rules too," Kaaz said.

Kaaz, who said the city has leased Sherman for more than 50 years, said the military could close the airfield to civilians at any time.

"They've never exercised that option, but it's always out there," he said.

Kaaz said that in 1992 the Federal Aviation Administration studied building a regional airport in Leavenworth County.

"In 1992, it was going to be $16,698,000," he said. "Of that, the local share was going to be $3,784,000."

According to Kaaz, the FAA would have paid 90 percent of construction costs.

And, Kaaz said, at that time, the FAA was considering about a dozen locations.

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