By Christian Favalora
Stillwater Regional Airport has been helping people soar over the red dirt prairies of Stillwater since it was a dusty young cow town, and today it is ready to take its services to the next level.
Nicknamed Searcy Field, after the late George Searcy who first managed the air strip in the 1930’s, Stillwater’s airport has served its citizens and visitors for 83 years and is looking to expand greatly.
Director Gary Johnson is responsible for the safety and management of operations at the airport and has seen the place make big improvements over the last two decades.
“I’m proud of how far we have come in the last 20 years,” Johnson said. “We have gathered $25 million in federal and state grants and have been able to improve our facilities to be a first-class airport.”
The airport is one of four Category III Federal Aviation Association certified airports in the state, meaning it can handle carrier aircraft. When the Texas Christian football team came to town, it traveled in a 175 passenger Boeing 757. Johnson said he was thrilled.
“We have passenger screening, firefighting ability and baggage handling,” Johnson said. “We had all hands on deck last Saturday.”
The runway is 7,401 feet long, and recent additions allow planes to navigate the tarmacadam more freely. Other features of the airport such as a daily OSU bus stop, emergency medical transportation services by Eagle Med LLC and car rentals make the airport a convenient hub for travelers.
The choice facing members of the Authority is which direction to take the airport in coming years. Will it be one of commerce and growth, or will it encourage more community involvement by supporting businesses and dreams?
Justin Biassou’s dream to be a pilot has come true.
He serves on the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, where his job requires him to handle much of the paperwork that deals with the airport. Biassou is also the vice-chairman of the Stillwater Regional Airport Authority and has learned to successfully mix business with pleasure.
He has a hunger for flying that began when he was a child in New Jersey, and it has grown here in Stillwater.
“My parents noticed my passion for flying as a child,” Biassou said. “Growing up in New Jersey, I would always look out the sunroof and see the large wide-bodied jets landing at Newark International Airport.
“Once we moved to the suburbs of Atlanta, my parents got me enrolled in the young eagles program at the age of 13. I started flying at 15 and then got my license at 19.”
Biassou then came to Stillwater, where he has kept his head in the clouds.
“I graduated from OSU with a degree in Aviation Sciences,” Biassou said. “I now have more than 300 hours of aviation time in tons of different airplanes. Aviation has been a part of my life since I was a child and it becomes more comfortable as you do it.”
Biassou is a certified pilot and said he knows the thrills that lure so many people to the skies as well as the fears that keep their feet on the ground.
“I have people come to me in their mid-50s and say ‘look, I’ve always wanted to fly,’” He said. “I always tell them it’s never too late to fly. You can go out to Stillwater airport and do that.”
Brad Jackson owns and operates Hangar One Flight Center of Stillwater where he and his partner, JR Reeves, help people of all ages learn to fly.
“We’re open all year long,” Jackson said. “We have three planes that can be rented or used for flight lessons.”
Jackson and Reeves took over the flight school a year ago and now have more than 30 students ranging from their teens to their 60s.
Anyone interested in learning to fly can call Hangar One and set up an appointment with a certified FAA instructor who will take them up in a plane on their first day.
“We call them discovery flights,” Jackson said. “Once a person gets up, they might see that it’s not as bad as they thought. And if they can fly two hours a week, they can get their license in as little as six months.”
Hangar One is one of 12 private businesses at the airport that employ roughly 50 people and provide many services to the community. A handful of others business owners keep planes there as well, and their success has pushed Johnson toward attracting more business.
“The Authority and I together have envisioned a commercial air service at the airport,” Johnson said. “We are actively and aggressively working with others to put together the data that shows this is a good place for a legacy airline to operate out of.”
Johnson said he wants to see a major airline operate out of the airport daily that can offer flights to Dallas, Houston, Denver and other major airports in this region of the country.
“We are the front door to the community and the gateway to the world,” he said.