In May, press was buzzing about the World War II fighter bombers that were based at the Manassas Regional Airport for the Victory Capitol Flyover for the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. While special events like the flyover, airshows, and the Manassas Runway 10k/5k race help put the airport on people’s radars, many may not know what happens every day at Virginia’s busiest General Aviation airport.
The first order of business is: why is “HEF” Manassas Regional Airport’s identifier code? Richard Allabaugh, who works in airport operations, asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the same question, but didn’t get a definitive answer. The FAA uses a computer program to suggest allowable codes from which the airport owner can choose. Codes that are too similar to other airports within 200 nautical miles aren’t allowed. The airport was dedicated as Harry P. Davis Field in honor of Mayor Harry P. Davis, the City’s longest serving Mayor. As a result, “HPD” or “HDF” would seem like the best fit for an airport identifier. However, Allabaugh wagers an educated guess that those identifiers were probably too close to existing codes and “HEF” was the closest to the airport’s original requested identifiers.
It’s important to note that Manassas is a General Aviation (GA) airport, not a commercial service airport like Dulles. The main difference is that GA airports do not have commercial airline service, which requires certification by the FAA. However, Manassas Regional voluntarily holds itself to the certification’s standards.
You’ll find many GA airports near major commercial airports because they help relieve air traffic congestion. Manassas Regional Airport was designated by the FAA to be the official reliever airport for Dulles and National airports. When comparing nearby airports, HEF has benefits that its competitors can’t touch. Pilots arriving at Manassas don’t have to wait behind commercial airliners; aircraft aren’t charged landing fees, and to top it off, fuel is typically cheaper. In comparing today’s retail prices with those at Dulles, jet fuel is $2 cheaper per gallon, and low lead fuel is $3.50 cheaper. Lastly, unlike some GA airports, Manassas Regional offers U.S. Customs services. When considering that HEF and Dulles are both 30 miles away from downtown D.C., a popular destination for airport guests, Manassas is an attractive option.
More than 420 aircraft are based at HEF in hangars that are leased by individuals, private jet owners, and corporations. Last year, there were a total of 82,130 take-offs and landings, but so much more goes on here. For example, there are four flight schools where people can work toward earning their private pilot’s license.
Allabaugh says the airport has more than 25 business tenants. “Some businesses have offices on site because they prefer to be close to their hangars,” he says. “While others, like Aurora Flight Services, locate here so they have the facilities to test their equipment.”
These include companies that specialize in some kind of aeronautical component like aircraft management, charter companies, aircraft sales, and fixed-based operators (FBO). FBOs offer aircraft servicing and accommodations to transient pilots and their passengers.
The combined flight and business activity is important to the City of Manassas. According to the Virginia Airport System Economic Impact Study of 2011, Manassas Regional Airport contributed more than $234 million and 1,056 jobs to the local economy.
When pressed for interesting stories or celebrity sightings, Allabaugh’s lips are sealed. “There’s nothing I can tell you,” he says. “People choose us because we are discrete.”