The huge piles of red dirt being bulldozed near the Alabama Aviation College on Highway 231 in Ozark are just some of the signs of progress and improvements at the Blackwell Field Airport.
The goal of having a terminal building and access from Highway 231 to the Ozark-Blackwell Field Airport is coming closer to reality.
Phase 1 of the terminal project is underway and includes building a detention pond for any runoff water, relocation of utilities and groundwork for the taxiway.
That taxiway will provide access to the terminal, terminal apron and a direct route off of Highway 231, explained Stephanie Blankenship. “Currently, there is not a direct route from 231 to the airport.”
Blankenship has served as Director of Aviation Services in Ozark since January 2013. She came to the position after serving as manager of the Headland Airport since 2002 and as economic development director for the City of Headland since 2011.
Before that Blankenship served as executive director of the Henry County Economic Development Authority and as economic development assistant for the City of Headland.
In addition to managing the Ozark airport and planning future improvements, Blankenship assists with economic development initiatives coordinated by ODCEDC.
She also serves as executive director of the Aviation Council of Alabama, an industry organization she has led since 2004.
While in these posts, she was instrumental in securing federal grants exceeding $2.6 million for airport improvements.
“General aviation airports, in particular, have a direct impact on their regional economy, boosting jobs, local investment and directly and indirectly generating important tax revenue,” Blankenship said this week. “Airports also help keep existing employers in a community and attract new ones to a region because companies are eager to capitalize on the transportation and other competitive advantages that an airport provides – primarily, easy access to regional, national and world markets.”
When Blankenship came to Dale County, a survey of current airport tenants was conducted and the general consensus was that “pilot services” was the biggest issue. So, pilot services became the focus of the strategic plan for the future, she said.
“Through the formation of a strategic plan for Blackwell Field, we took a hard look at the assets of the airport as well as areas for improvements,” Blankenship said. “Overwhelmingly, there was a desire for more pilot services such as accessibility to flight planning, Wi-Fi, an area where food could be purchased, courtesy car and/or rental car service, public restrooms and a pilot lounge for corporate traffic.”
Blankenship said the fiscal year 2014 total project grant was for $987,314. Of that amount, the federal share was $888,583 and the local match was $98,731.
Fiscal year 2015 grant requests will include completing the partial parallel taxiway, construction of an aircraft-parking apron, construction of an entrance from Hwy. 231 to the new terminal site and vehicle parking lot at the terminal. “This funding will be obtained from the FAA, state and local funds,” Blankenship explained.
The improvements will provide access to bathrooms, a lounge, Wi-Fi and conference rooms. “This is going to benefit not only the airport, but the entire area,” she said.
“We like to say here that you can build a mile of road and go one mile, but you build a mile of runway and you can see the world,” Blankenship said with a smile. “But more importantly, the world can come and see you. So we feel that this is opening up the opportunity for Dale County to continue with the growth that we’ve already done.”
The Blackwell Field Airport will be the leading general aviation airport in the region with world-class facilities, placing safety and service as its highest priority,” Blankenship said. “We feel certain at the conclusion of these projects we will have met most of the immediate needs as well as provide the opportunity for attracting more corporate aircraft using Blackwell Field.
“Companies and business developers look for ready access to air transportation when they make decisions on where to locate new businesses, offices and facilities,” she added.