Freeport Mayor’s View: Flying High With Volunteer Help
April 11, 2015
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  • What do you do if your main terminal building is uninhabitable and the wind blew down your main hangar for business operations? Well, if you are the fixed-base operator at Albertus Airport, you rally volunteers who know a lot about office renovation and you get a lot of people to roll up their sleeves.

    If you use Freeport’s Albertus Airport, you know that the airport’s terminal building never has ranked up there with other regional airports’ facilities, let alone Trump Tower. It is a modest structure more like a double-wide trailer than anything else. And, until recently the terminal facility had major issues, including a leaky roof, water damage, mold and peeling paint, to name a few. I’m happy to report that is no longer the case.

    So what’s the big deal? Who cares what the airport does, what condition its facilities are in or who uses it?

    First, Darrell Janssen, the fixed-base operator, and the Albertus Airport community are to be commended for their volunteer efforts to upgrade a key city facility. Instead of requesting tens of thousands of dollars to address the condition of the terminal building, we worked out a deal where the city would pay for basic materials and Freeport Flite Center and local pilots donated their labor and time to do the rest. Instead of spending $50,157, the city’s total expenditure is $7,589. In a tight budget, that is real savings.

    Second, what happens at the airport does matter. Far from being a pastime of a few local recreational pilots, Albertus Airport also serves a business purpose. The city used the state’s Airport Improvement Program to make major upgrades at Albertus over the past 20 years. These include all-weather instrument landing capability and improved runways.

    This, in turn, means that corporate aircraft for Honeywell, Newell, Titan and Snak King, to name but a few businesses, can utilize our local airport for business purposes. It also makes our airport a potential asset for economic development and job creation. It does this by having the added attraction to potential and existing businesses of being able to travel in and out of Freeport easily and quickly. In the business world, time is money. Additionally, airport improvements can generate more business for small aircraft repair, maintenance and storage.

    The city’s Airport Commission, Darrell Janssen and the city administration all share a common vision of what the airport can be and what we need to do to get there. Admittedly, improving the present airport terminal is only a small step in a much bigger process, but everything we do is a building block to the future. What I think is most significant is the resourcefulness of Darrell Janssen and the Pilots Association, along with the Airport Commission members. They rolled up their sleeves, pitched in and got an immediate problem resolved.

    At the outset of this article, I mentioned a wind-damaged hangar. This was not just another airport building. This was the hangar facility that Janssen, under contract with the city, used for servicing and repairing aircraft. Wind damage rendered this facility a total loss.

    Once again, a problem may lead to opportunity. The insurance proceeds should be sufficient to pay for a new hangar. With a few additional resources, we may be able to turn the new hangar into a joint facility that includes an integrated terminal facility as part of the hangar, thus killing two birds with one stone.

    Albertus Airport may not be No. 1 on everyone’s list of community assets. However, those who are knowledgeable will affirm that the airport can be an asset for attracting and retaining jobs. Kudos to Darrell Janssen, the Pilots Association and the Airport Commission for making the present terminal building better and more usable, while we chart the future.

    Jim Gitz is mayor of Freeport.