Since 1943, the Beatrice Municipal Airport has been serving the general aviation needs of Beatrice and Gage County, allowing Sunland residents to take to the skies.
General aviation is defined as any civilian flying with the exception of scheduled passenger airlines. This includes helicopter flight, private business aviation, flight instruction, aerial application of agricultural chemicals, leisure flying and more. In all, general aviation is a $20 billion a year business, and the Municipal Airport allows Beatrice to get a piece of it.
“Big companies, people looking to start new businesses, they won’t come to a town without an airport,” said airport manager Diana Smith. “An airport is a huge economic boon.”
On a regular basis, the Beatrice Municipal Airport brings in business flyers for Exmark and Koch Nitrogen, professionals such as veterinarians, and package delivery and pickup flights every morning and night.
“We do 10,000-11,000 operations per year on average,” Smith said.
An operation is any time an aircraft takes off or lands. If a single plane lands at the Beatrice Municipal Airport, refuels, then takes off again, that’s two operations.
Smith, who has worked at the airport in some capacity for 42 years, as manager for the last 14, is one of a team of four full-time and three part-time employees who keep the airport running 365 days a year.
“We’re in here every single day,” she said.
The other employees include two full-time airport maintenance personnel — who keep up the buildings, runways and grounds — as well as a full-time aircraft maintenance worker, who services the planes.
Part of the airport’s budget comes from local property tax levies, which is what makes it a municipal entity. All funds must be approved by the local Airport Authority, a publicly elected body of five individuals.
“We’re very fortunate right now that I think all five of our members are pilots, or have some aviation experience,” Smith said. “In some communities, there won’t be a single person on the board who flies.”
The Municipal Airport can fully support both piston-driven and jet-propelled aircraft, though not the jumbo jets that frequent Lincoln and Omaha.
“It’s actually not the size, it’s the weight of an aircraft that determines what we can handle,” Smith said. “It all depends on the thickness of the runway.”
The airport is the headquarters of the Flying Conestogas, a local aviation booster club that does local and regional fly-bys for events such as the upcoming Homestead Days, as well as Husker football games. The club also puts on an annual Fun Day in Jefferson County, usually in the fall.
Smith said there are several aviation organizations in the area that help get youth interested in flying, such as the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Civil Air Patrol.
“We’re very fortunate to have a Civil Air Patrol unit in Beatrice,” she said. “They’re an awesome group, they get together, have their meetings, and the younger generation which is interested in flying, they’re very fortunate to have this unit stationed in the area.”
CAP offers cadet programs to interested youth, and the EAA regularly volunteers to give children ages 8-17 free plane rides. The next EAA
“Young Eagle Rides” is scheduled for June 14.
Smith says there’s always something happening at the Beatrice Municipal Airport, and invites the public to stop by the main building at any time.
“We love it when people come in here just to see what’s going on,” she said.