Pilots can make the Middle Peninsula home for their private planes or just stay for a day at the Middle Peninsula Regional or New Kent County airports.
Located 25.5 miles apart, the general aviation facilities offer services for private aircraft, said Bill Dale, manager of the regional airport.
The Middle Peninsula Regional Airport is the bigger of the two, with 5,700 feet of runway that can handle single- and double-engine planes, as well as small jets and helicopters. Companies are beginning to invest in jets because they don’t require a crew and are less hassle than flying commercially.
Having a jet-capable runway has attracted businesses to the airport, including helicopter emergency rescue squad LifeEvac, Dale said.
The airport’s 24 hangars rent for $300 a month and are filled to capacity. There is very little turnover rate for hangars, and when they do become available there is a waiting list, Dale said.
Planes also can be tied down at the regional airport’s outdoor lot for $60 a month.
The New Kent County Airport has a 3,600-foot runway that also can handle single- and double-engine planes. Its 40 hangars also are full and cost between $145 and $250 a month to rent.
Pilots also can rent a space in the outdoor tie-down lot for $50 a month, said Duane Goss, manager of the county airport.
Visiting pilots can fly into either airport to buy fuel or tie down their planes. Neither facility charges for planes to tie down for a few days, but both managers said they prefer notice so that they know who it belongs to in case of emergencies.
Flight crews who land at the Middle Peninsula Regional Airport have access to amenities, including a rest area with a television, beds and a kitchen. They can also use navigation equipment to plan the next leg of their trips, or borrow a car to run short errands.
Those who are planning to stay in the area for a few days can make arrangements to rent a car from Enterprise through the airport, Dale said.
The regional airport’s staff is made up of seven people, including Dale and Tina Hammons, finance director for the airport and King and Queen County, which is a major contributor to the airport’s budget. The five other employees maintain the facility and the grounds.
The New Kent County Airport does not offer these amenities, although the staff is willing to drive visitors to destinations. The staff is made of three people, including Goss. Goss manages the airport’s budget and the other two employees take care of the facility and the grounds.
Those who want to get their pilot’s license can learn to fly through the New Kent Aviation flight school at the New Kent County Airport.
Students learn to fly on three single-engine planes and a Redbird full-motion flight simulator. They can earn private and commercial pilot’s licenses at the school, said Matthew Welch, assistant chief flight instructor.
“We probably have between 30 and 40 (students) at a time in different capacities,” Welch said. “Some do a lot and some do a little, but each year we get about 15 to 20 people through at least one form of (license) rating.”
New Kent Aviation also offers discovery flights for people who have always dreamed of piloting, but aren’t sure if they want to make the $7,000 to $8,000 investment in a private license. Discovery flights are conducted under a flight instructors supervision, and counts as the first hour of flight training, Welch said.
The Middle Peninsula Regional Airport does not have a flight school, although it is trying to attract one, Dale said. It is, however, home to a LifeEvac helicopter ambulance emergency response team, owned by Air Methods.
The team transports patients between facilities, responds to trauma calls and assists rescue squads. They travel across Virginia, and sometimes over state lines into Maryland and North Carolina, said Dave Givens, lead pilot.
“(Hospitals) would rather the patient go directly from the scene to the appropriate facility. That provides expeditious care for the patient,” Givens said.
Each flight carries a pilot, a flight nurse, a flight medic, a stretcher and other emergency medical equipment and medicine.
During their shifts the crew lives in a hangar, much like firemen. The hangar has space for plane repairs, offices, kitchens, showers and beds, Givens said.
The Middle Peninsula Regional Airport is government-owned by four localities that make up the Middle Peninsula Regional Airport Authority. The authority is formed by King William, King and Queen and Gloucester counties and the Town of West Point.
Each locality contributes $30,000 a year toward the airport’s operating budget.
King and Queen County, where the airport is located, also gives a percentage of property tax from hangars, aircraft and equipment back to the airport, Hammons said.
The authority meets every second Tuesday of the month. The meetings are open to the public. Issues that need to be addressed by the authority can be added to the meeting’s agenda in advance, but there is also a public comment period.
In addition to the $120,000 contribution from the authority, the regional airport makes money by selling fuel and oil, renting hangars and tie-down fees.
This fiscal year the airport has made about $400,000, but the amount of revenue varies each year with business and the economy. Any money that isn’t spent in the operating budget is put aside for future capital improvement projects, Dale said.
The New Kent County Airport is owned by the county. The county does not own any aircraft at the airport, but uses the facility as a staging area for disaster preparedness, as well as fire and EMS drills, Goss said.
The airport’s budget is made up of county money and state and federal grants. In fiscal year 2014, the county adopted a $324,233 airport budget, and the 2015 proposed budget documents that the airport’s actual spending was $88,069 by November.
The county plan for the future of the airport through its capital improvement plan, which looks about five years down the road. In next year’s county capital improvement projects, the airport plans to spend $257,000 for projects, including new runway lights, rehabilitation of the taxiway and construction of a security fence. Of that total only $14,140 will come from county funds and taxpayer dollars. The rest is funded through federal and state grants.
“It takes a support system to make it all work,” Goss said.
The Middle Peninsula Regional Airport supports the region by providing an easy alternative to commercial airports for business travel, Dale said. It also draws visitors who spend money in the area, as well as people who move there for work, like members of the LifeEvac team.
The New Kent County Airport aims to break even, however, between 2013 and 2014 revenues decreased from $171,466 to $161,265.
Although the revenue did decrease by almost $10,000, the airport is an important part of the county and state economy, Goss said. “I don’t think it is dying. I feel that it is very strong,” Goss said. “I think general aviation is very much alive, but of course the price of fuel has an impact on us.”
Although he loves general aviation, Dale said that he believes these types of airports are changing with the times, and suffering nationally. Now it is much harder for the middle class to afford the expenses of fuel, aircraft and insurance than it was when Dale started his aviation career 40 years ago.
“It used to be, in my day, anybody could afford an airplane. It was just a bit higher than what you could buy a car for,” Dale said. “This portion of general aviation, the small, single-engine aircraft, is going away.”
Dale said that he hopes to see the regional airport continue to grow so that it can survive the changes that time and the economy inevitably bring. He is working on plans with the authority to draw investors to build hangars in the county, and hopes to eventually have a hangar large enough for jets.
“To stay stagnant means you’re not going to be around in 20 years,” Dale said. “We need more hangars. We have people banging on our doors to put their planes here, and we’ve got to capture those folks and bring them here.”