General Aviation’s Importance to Our Area
May 19, 2015
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  • What in the world is “General Aviation?” It must be important because Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has designated May as “General Aviation (GA) Appreciation Month.” Complete with an official proclamation certificate signed and imprinted with the Great Seal of the State of Nebraska. Pretty impressive!

    Enough of the sweet sarcasm. This old longtime pilot truly loves aviation of all kinds but general aviation comes first in my heart.

    Civil aviation is divided into roughly three parts which basically operate under their own bundle of Federal Aviation Regulations. The big boys and the most regulated are the airlines. Then comes Business Aviation operating mainly turbo-prop and jet aircraft.

    The rest of us, the little guys operating smaller reciprocating engine propeller driven aircraft are granted the most freedom of regulation. The military operates under their own rules.

    McCook’s airport, officially “McCook Ben Nelson Regional” (it pains me to write that name) is built primarily for general aviation. All the types of aviation are invited to and do use our facilities. Due to runway limitations the large airliners obviously don’t come here but their turbo-prop feeder airlines, Great Lakes Airline at present, do use our facilities.

    The city-owned building that is the air terminal is operated by the airline employing a number of local persons. In support of their related operation TSA provides passenger screening from an office on the airport and security aided by City Police. On a happy note those of us who travel to Denver to make airline connections have found it much easier to go through the baggage inspection ordeal with our friendly local TSA agents than to endure the long lines and impatient TSA personnel at larger airports. Once inspected you have it done for the whole trip.

    Several days each week one can spot military aircraft on our ramp. Primarily those are Black Hawk helicopters of the Nebraska Army Guard. Most military jets can’t operate here due again to runway length — too short.

    Most days of the week one can see one or more business aircraft, mostly twin engine turbo-prop “King Airs,” that have brought doctors to Community Hospital’s Specialty Clinics.

    The two-person flight crews of those business aircraft use our good restaurants, occasionally shop our stores and while away the hours in the comfortable lounge provided by Red Willow Aviation.

    McCook is fortunate to have an air ambulance, Life Team, operating a King Air, based at our airport. The four[person crew of that well-equipped aircraft live 24-7 (when they aren’t flying) in a house just behind hangar row. They buy their groceries and other supplies in our community plus jet fuel and rent hangar space from Griff Malleck’s fixed base operation (FBO) Red Willow Aviation.

    During daylight hours one can spot a larger twin engine aircraft sitting lonely on the ramp and that belongs to a company contracted to fly packages for UPS to Denver each night. That aircraft returns with its load of freight early each morning. That pilot, not based here rents local motel space and eats at our restaurants.

    Kugler Co. operates their nice corporate aircraft, a King Air at the moment, several times a week with their corporate officers visiting one or more of their outstate manufacturing facilities. Kugler owns their hangar base of air operations.

    A second corporate King Air owned and operated by Go Light is based at the McCook Airport. Reportedly, another two King Air aircraft will be relocating to be based here.

    All the privately owned hangars and buildings on the airport sit on city-owned land. The owner pays an annual lease fee. All the privately-owned buildings, my hangar included, and aircraft alike are assessed and pay personal property taxes to the city and county. There is no free lunch.

    Privately-owned general aviation aircraft are actually the forte’ of McCook’s airport. I count 42 that are permanently stationed here. There could be more were more hangar space available.

    Actually the City owns 33 individual hangars which are all rented to private individuals. There is a waiting list for space. A new 8-plex is in the mill to replace five old unusable structures. The new hangar complex will be built with 80 percent of the funds coming from the Federal Airport and Airway Trust Fund with the city picking up the remainder of the tab. Not too shabby a deal, as the city will own the completed structure and collect all the rents as they do for all their other hangars. The Trust Fund is revenue collected from a tax on every gallon of aviation fuel sold and from a tax on airline passenger tickets.

    Red Willow Aviation is the fixed-base operator at McCook. Its excellent maintenance shop is constantly in action, doing all sorts of repairs, annual inspections and avionics installations. Additionally RWA provides flight instruction for aspiring aviators. They also own a fleet of five agriculture sprayers (crop dusters) doing essential service for the surrounding area.

    Griff tends to make it a business policy to post the lowest fuel prices for miles around. Low prices, relative as aviation fuel (today Jet $3.44/gal, 100LL $4.59/gal) is much more expensive than automotive fuel, coupled with excellent service is a great customer draw. We local aviators benefit but the price posted on the web draws a great amount of transient business.

    Jobs. The airport here is responsible for employing 25+ persons full and part time. Additionally full-time city employee Kenny Vontz is the man who cares for the airport property. He keeps the lights working, the taxiway and runway paint in good order, does the hangar repair, mows the grass and a hundred other tasks to make the place look like someone cares.

    In a sense, our airport is owned by each of us and we can look on it with pride.

    That is how I saw it.