One of the most prominent, ongoing maintenance issues at the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport has finally been resolved, and the chairman of the board that oversees the facility says it is a sign that hard work to make improvements at the airport are paying off.
Volunteers installed a new beacon just before Christmas Day late last year. The old beacon had been inoperable for roughly a year. It had been struck by lighting, which caused electrical issues with the beacon, and would not work because of lack of proper maintenance.
“Of all the issues we have at the airport, this is the one that was on everybody’s list,” said Tim Mays, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport. “It came up in just about every conversation we had with all of our tenants that the beacon wasn’t working. I can tell you, it was a tremendous day when we got that back up and working. It was a beautiful sight.”
A beacon is vitally important for an airport. It serves basically the same function as the light on a lighthouse, signaling to aviators the location of an airport. The intermittent color of light the beacon emanates also signals what type of airport flyers are approaching — a commercial facility, one meant for general aviation, a military base or a facility meant for helicopters or other hovering aircraft.
The board purchased the newly refurbished beacon from manufacturer ECS in Mississippi for roughly $8,000. Installation was done by volunteers with the assistance of a local utility company.
Mays said the beacon is a modified version of the old beacon that used to shine above the airport. That changes made to it make it simpler to maintain.
“The old one was a bad design. This one is basically the same, but it is a little bit easier to take care of,” Mays said. “From the looks of it, it appears to be new so we hope that it will last for some time to come.”
Installation of the new beacon is the latest in a string of maintenance issues the airport’s board of directors has begun to tackle in recent months. Roughly 50 percent of the current board members have been on the board for less than a year. The reconstituted board has been meeting more regularly and is delving into financial and physical issues at the facility that spiraled out of control in recent years.
Since October of last year, the board has funded and overseen the replacement of the airport’s septic system and maintenance of leach field, dealt with security fencing and locks in the main terminal area and for private hangars, replaced a hydraulic hangar door with a military-grade, self-folding door that is much more durable, and dealt with fuel issues.
This year, plans are in place to totally repair the airport’s runway lighting system that is spotty because of poor design and lightning strikes, and to repaint the runway.
The board has made strides to get a grip on the airport’s financial issues as well and is moving toward consolidating about $450,000 worth of loans, some of which it has only been paying interest on, into a single, lower rate loan with a local lender. It has also scaled back payroll expenses and cut back on things like cellular phone bills.
Mays said he feels like the board is beginning to turn a corner on some of the issues it’s facing and is hoping to be able to hire a full-time director for the facility in the near future. He has maintained for months that many of the problems at the airport have cropped up, to some extent, because it hasn’t had a director or general manager on site to pay attention to the day-to-day details.
“This could be the nicest general aviation airport in the state of Kentucky. Once we solve all the problems we have right now, I think it could very well be the shining light in aviation airports,” Mays said.
There are about 600 large commercial airports in the U.S., but around 14,000 general aviation airports that service everything from travelers to hobbyists, medical air services to cargo companies.
“General aviation airports are a far bigger part of the transportation system in this country than a lot of people realize,” Mays said. “We want our airport to be an important part of that network so it can service those who, perhaps, want to do business in Whitley County.”