Planes buzz over Goshen’s skies every day almost unnoticed.
When a DC-9 lands at Goshen Municipal Airport, it gains some attention. So does the Goodyear blimp and military jets. But for the most part, the approximately 26,424 landings and takeoffs a year at the airport are as noticeable as a contrail on a cloudy day.
So most people probably don’t realize the impact of the airport on Goshen and the surrounding communities.
Airport Manager Randy Sharkey said there are 70 airports in Indiana. Four of them are considered airline hubs. The others — 66 of them — are considered general aviation airports.
“We are in the top 12 of those general aviation airports for total operational count,” Sharkey said. “That is an impressive number when you consider the size of the airport and the communities around us.”
In 2013, Goshen had a total operations count (one takeoff, one landing) of 26,424. The Elkhart Airport had 24,100 (and they have a control tower) and Warsaw had 17,960.
Why does Goshen have such a high operational number?
Goshen has an active flight school, a charter jet company and a helicopter flight school.
Plenty of action
New Horizons Aviation operates a flight school with full-time instructors at Goshen Air Center. Pilots can receive certifications from private to commercial.
“When a flight school is located on field,” Sharkey said, “student pilots can really rack up the numbers.”
The flight school is owned by Roger Yoder and Dan Steiner.
“Having a flight school here certainly has an economic impact,” Sharkey said.
Aircraft Charter Services (ACS) is also based at the airport. This charter jet company has a total of six jets in its fleet and employs 18 full-time pilots who fly across the country.
Goshen Helicopter, owned by Steve Johnson, operates a flight school at the airport as well. When Johnson is busy, primarily during the summer months, the number of operations jumps up, Sharkey said.
These three operations, however, are a fraction of the pie that contributes to the overall business of the air center.
About 25 percent of the business is directly related to flight training.
Thirty percent is from transient traffic — flights that are just stopping in and then going back out. This is mainly business.
The other 45 percent are base customers. These are the planes that live at Goshen air center. There are about 65 planes that live at Goshen airport, Sharkey said.
Big economic impact
The Aviation Association of Indiana estimates that the Goshen airport contributes about $11 million annually through direct and indirect revenues to the city of Goshen.
Direct means everyone who is employed at the airport. Thirty-eight people are employed by Goshen Air Center, from part-time janitorial staff to full-time corporate pilots and charter pilots, maintenance technicians, scheduling staff and the administration.
Indirect means people who fly into the community, Sharkey said, whether it is somebody just flying in to spend time at Lake Wawasee or a business executive meeting with a local management team.
“These people are spending money in our community — hotels, restaurants, car rentals,” Sharkey said. “So when you combine direct and indirect, you get a total of just over $11 million.
The airport has an annual budget of $250,000. About half of the revenue is self generated. That leaves $125,000 liable to the city taxpayer.
“That is a great return on your investment,” Sharkey said.
The airport is within the city limits.
So what makes the airport so attractive?
It has a 6,050-foot long runway, which can accommodate airplanes as large as a DC-9 Freightliner. In December, the airport saw plenty of DC-9 activity because of a local auto manufacturer, Sharkey said.
Another reason, he said, is the airport provides the big city services at a local hometown airport.
Jack Wilson Jr., CTB’s manager of air transportation, calls Goshen Air Center “above average.”
Wilson flies around the world for CTB, based in Milford, and lands in many general aviation airports, which gets his employers closer to their customers.
“The biggest thing in airports like this is having equipment — equipment to remove snow, sand — and people who can answer the phones,” Wilson said. “Goshen does a very, very good job of that.”
Sharkey said that Goshen Municipal Airport is considered one of the best kept secrets in Indiana
“We tend to be the trend setters for the services provided,” Sharkey said. “Like Thrifty car rental.”
Cars can be rented on site.
“When a passenger flies in, they can rent a car and are on their way,” Sharkey said. “You have to go a long way to find an FBO that offers that.”
Convenience a factor
An FBO is a field based operator. For Goshen, that is Goshen Air Center. The city of Goshen owns the 450-acre airport and contracts with Goshen Air Center to manage it. Sharkey is actually the only city employee on staff at the airport.
City officials found it was more economical to contract than to have a larger staff on the city payroll, Sharkey said.
Another larger airport offering is deicing.
“We have full deicing capability,” Sharkey said. “Last week we got two airplanes that were planning on going to Warsaw and Kendallville. But both diverted because they needed deicing.”
And convenience is another factor for local corporations.
Goshen may only be a two- to three-hour drive from Chicago or Indianapolis, but a direct flight in on a jet can be a much-needed time saver for executives.
“What the airplanes do for us is maximize our time,” said Wilson.
CTB has about 20 people who utilize the company’s three jets — two are based in Goshen and one is located in Warsaw.
Company representatives can get to their mainly rural customer base quickly by using general aviation airports, including Goshen. Planes also allow a secure environment to conduct meetings, Wilson said.
“The company has been very, very successful in growing the business and some of that can be attributed to the airplanes,” he said. “As far as growing the business, the airplanes are vital for that.” Company execs are able to meet new customers or bring customers into Milford. Although technology has made the need for that less.
However, CTB is seeing growth in its European operation. A third jet was added, the one based in Warsaw, for its global operations. That plane has been operating for about 3 1/2 months.
“For the ease of moving people around,” Wilson said, “(planes) are worth it.”
For Wilson, what really makes Goshen stand out is the communication between the city, the operator and the airport board.
“Everyone’s on the same page,” he said, adding that those involved with the airport are very forward thinking and they solicit their customers’ input.
“I can talk to people if I need to,” he said. “It’s the people who make the whole operation click. They’re representing the city. And the city doesn’t have to worry so much that things are being taken care of.”
Sharkey said that there are many corporations that are based in Goshen that may be here if it wasn’t for the convenience of having an airport nearby.
“When a company comes into town to look at building,” Sharkey said, “that’s generally one of the questions they ask.”