Corporate pilot Tom Nilssen has seen his share of small airports, including Livingston County’s facility, as he flies clients across the United States.
He remembered the “dilapidated building” on the south side of the Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport, a place he stops at six times a year.
Nilssen, chief corporate pilot for the corporation that owns Ditch Witch, said he’s impressed with the new $900,000 airport terminal.
“It’s pretty much top of the line,” Nilssen said. “There isn’t much out there much nicer than that.”
County officials have stated improvements to the Howell Township airport should help boost the local economy, and those in the aviation field agree.
“Generally, people that fly in corporate jets have a little bit of money,” Nilssen said. “They’re expecting a nice facility.”
“I’m flying to impress my customers,” Nilssen said. “You don’t do that flying into a dump. You’re flying them in a $10 million plane to go into a $100,000 shack, that kind of defeats the purpose.”
Although there might be other airports nearby, he said clients will return to a quality facility once they find it. He said a corporation might even decide to base an airplane at a particular airport. He also said the recent improvements at the Livingston airport definitely will boost activity at the facility.
Airport Manager Mark Johnson said the facility is on pace for a record year in jet-fuel sales.
He said the airport has sold 75,000 gallons of jet fuel so far this year; at the end of September 2012, the facility had sold 64,800 gallons.
“There clearly has been a lot more jet traffic since it opened,” Matt Dahline said.
Dahline and his wife, Andrea, are owners of Crosswinds Aviation, a flight school at the county airport.
Dahline said he’s convinced whatever money was invested in the new terminal and improvements will be returned by businesspeople spending money here.
“It’s a great asset for the community,” Dahline said.
He said the new terminal should attract more charter pilots who are flying corporate executives and business owners.
“You want to stop at a place that has reasonably priced fuel, a nice lobby, and have a nice experience,” he said.
Dahline said a good airport is an important community asset because it attracts businesses to the area. He said owners want to get people and products in and out quickly.
He said the instrument landing system installed at the airport allows pilots to land even in poor visibility. He noted executives don’t like being told they can’t travel due to poor weather.
“When they want to see their clients, they want to see their clients,” he said.
The county’s new terminal opened at the end of June, and an open house was held last week.
“The terminal is often the first view of Livingston County that people have,” Johnson said.
He said that when people step off the plane, the new terminal “sets the tone.”
Johnson said recent improvements at the airport will make it more attractive as an economic tool for the county. Upgrades include a new runway, better instrument approaches and a new taxiway.
The new terminal has a lounge with a fireplace for visitors and a conference room.
The new terminal is 3,800 square feet, compared to the 1,200 square feet at the old terminal. The old terminal was built in 1967 and hasn’t changed much.
Johnson said the Federal Aviation Administration paid for 95 percent of the project, and another 2.5 percent was paid for by the Michigan Department of Transportation. He said the county paid 2.5 percent, which is an estimated $25,000.
Nilssen said he sees a bright future for the new terminal and improved county airport.
“If they continue the trend they’re on right now, there’s absolutely no doubt there’s going to be a lot of activity based out of Howell.”