Nov. 14–One mile of runway can take you anywhere in the world. That’s the credo of Bruce Payton, Monroe County Airport’s director.
The Stinesville native has been enthralled with the Monroe County Airport since he was 9 years old, starting with an airport visit he fondly recalls spending with his mother. It was the mid-1960s, a time when you could walk right up to the airplanes, see the gleam of their windows, get a close peek of the rudder.
You could even touch the wing, if you were tall enough to reach it. It was that curiosity and accessibility, Payton says, that made him realize from a young age that airplanes were special.
Payton has since pursued the interest that early visit kindled to earn for the airport the distinction of “Airport of the Year” from the Aviation Association of Indiana. The award was presented last month to Monroe County Airport — or “BMG,” as it’s known by shorthand — for its progress in aviation safety, education, economic development and corporate citizenship.
“I’ve always just had a bit of an engineer’s brain,” said the 59-year-old everyman who started at Monroe County Airport as a maintenance hire in 1978. “I love the technology, the preciseness of flying. … The twisted fingers of fate put me towards a position, here at this airport, where I could do what I was good at.”
Payton says his experience on the airport’s maintenance crew primed him to be a mindful, thrifty director. He spent years refurbishing parts, then tinkering and learning how to make airplane adjustments in-house rather than hiring an outside contractor. There was even the nightmare minus-10 degree winter day where five miles of runway lighting failed — and his crew had to locate the wiring problem while planes routinely approached to land.
He’s kept that same mindset of service since taking over as director in 2000 — any task his airport’s personnel can handle internally saves the county and its taxpayers money.
Since 1987, the airport has partnered with the county council and board of commissioners to leverage more than $38 million in Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement projects, according to airport data, including a nearly $11 million emergency sinkhole repair project in 2012.
Many similar-size regional airports end up declining such grants altogether because they can’t even match the remainder of the bill. Typically, the local contribution to such projects is 7.5 percent, with the federal govnerment picking up 90 percent and the state paying for 2.5 percent, Payton said.
A survey of businesses that use Monroe County Airport showed that the facility provides an estimated $235 million impact to the Monroe County community every year.
“As a county job, that’s key. We’re not always running out and buying new equipment. We’re making the old stuff last longer,” Payton said. “I take our taxpayers’ money, and I try to be as efficient as possible. I pay into it, too, so I’m offended when there’s waste.”
2014 has proven to be a banner year for the airport, and reflects why it will soon be displaying four steel “Airport of the Year” signs around its facility. In the last fiscal year, the airport posted $111,217 in hangar rental income, leasing to such local companies and institutions as Cook Medical, Indiana University and Geo-Flo Products. The airport also harvested a record $93,437 in farmland revenue by growing and selling corn and soybeans in vacant property fields.
The award also gave consideration to Monroe County’s educational aviation programs, such as “Kister’s Kids,” which taught students principles of flight and physics at the Harmony School. A three-day camp also allows Boy Scouts to earn their aviation merit badges, and the airport hosts a Civil Air Patrol squadron, where trained experts help conduct search and rescue exercises.
“We don’t just want aviators on the airport,” Payton said. “We want to get other folks out here, so they can understand, too.” If things go according to plan this spring, the airport will break ground a new hangar on the property’s southwest side.
With Interstate 69 nearing completion, placing Indianapolis within 30 minutes of Monroe County, Payton is working for more businesses and corporate agencies to sign a standard 30-year lease.
It’s not unlike housing strategy: Build a place where customers will want to stay, and then attract interested tenants.
Payton sees those future tenants adding to the local economy. They will buy houses, frequent Bloomington’s groceries and become long-term residents.
“This isn’t a little play-toy for the wealthy,” he said. “This is a key economic generator for the community, and certainly an economic tool for local businesses.”
AT A GLANCE:
Monroe County Airport Class IV FAA Part 139 airport Founded: 1943 FAA identifier: BMG 972 S. Kirby Road Copyright 2014 – Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.