March 14, 2012 By: Miles Flynn
On March 8, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a proclamation declaring March to be General Aviation Appreciation Month.
Among the aviation officials applauding the announcement is Brian Payne, who is the manager at the 2011 Aviation Association of Indiana Airport of the Year-winning French Lick Municipal Airport.
“We’re glad to see that the state is recognizing the economic impact of general aviation,” he commented.
Even locally, he said, the numbers are “just phenomenal.”
The Aviation Association of Indiana’s most recent economic impact report for French Lick Municipal, which was completed at the start of 2011 for 2009 operations, listed an impact of $5,696,000. For 2007, the total was $2,200,000. The 2005 number was $834,000.
The studies use a formula of direct impacts, indirect impacts, induced impacts and transportation cost savings to put a dollar value on the airport-related expenditures that the facilities bring to their communities.
Payne said the most important aspect of the report is it shows local taxpayers just what kind of a return on investment they receive from a facility that only receives $187,000 per year from the town for operating costs.
Given increased usage, ever-growing fuel sales numbers, aircraft mechanic Curtis Kelley’s decision to set up shop at the airport and a couple of major projects in the offing, Payne expects the 2011 report to show even more expansion.
And so far, 2012 is also off to a flying start.
“January and February both were very impressive for us,” Payne reported. “We’ve more than doubled what we’ve done in any year we’ve ever had before.”
Fuel sales for the two months totaled 4,718 gallons. The total was 1,785 gallons for the first two months of 2011.
“Which was the best year we ever had,” Payne added.
The airport is also seeing more aircraft come in now than a year ago. The number of planes was 89 for January and February 2012 and 50 for the same period in 2011.
Payne pointed out that transient traffic is vitally important to the airport, which is home base for only about 15 aircraft. In fact, he estimates that about 93 to 94 percent of the facility’s business is generated by aircraft flying in from other places.
Because of the importance placed on those travelers, the airport has been keeping track of transient flights’ origination points since July 2008.
“We’ve logged in aircraft now from 48 states and four countries,” Payne shared.
While many of those aircraft are just passing through, others list French Lick as their final destination. Payne gives a great deal of credit for that to French Lick Resort’s growing reputation among serious golfers.
“The Pete Dye Course has increased our business to a level we never thought we would see,” he commented.
He foresees even more jet-setting players as a result of the facility being picked as the best in Indiana and one of the nation’s top three courses.
The airport’s also showing up on more and more aircraft associations’ radar screens. French Lick was chosen to host a regional Comanche owner’s group this winter and has now been selected as the site for a national Commando event later this year. Payne is expecting 35-65 planes to be in during the week-long event in September. He sees word of mouth among owners as a key to success.
“These guys, they talk,” Payne said, “and that’s what we want.”
One project the airport is working on to make operations safer, and to make the facility an even better option, is a parallel taxiway. The $5.5-million undertaking is being funded largely by federal and state grants. Money from the local development agreement only accounts for 2.5-3.75 percent of the cost. Once work is completed early this summer, planes will no longer need to taxi on the runway itself in order to position themselves for take offs or after landings.
A new safer, more direct access route from State Road 145 to the airport is also on the horizon.
The project’s $7.5-million price tag will be paid by $6 million in federal highway funds and $1.5-million in local match money. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has pledged $600,000 (with $200,000 coming each year for three years, as funds are available); Orange County, $250,000; the Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, $200,000; the Orange County Development Commission, $125,000; and the Town of French Lick and the Town of West Baden Springs are each putting up $150,000. Completion is scheduled for late 2014 or early 2015.
“We’re very pleased,” Payne commented. “Everybody seems to be working together.”
Source: SPRING VALLEY HERALD