Cheboygan County Airport Manager Del Reynolds recently updated the Cheboygan County Board of Commissioners on operations at the airport over the last year. “First of all, thank you for your support of the Cheboygan airport,” said Reynolds. “A lot of people don’t realize that the airport is actually just another highway.
It’s actually MDOT, MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) is involved in it, and so we’re another highway. And your help to keep that highway open is very appreciated.” The airport structure to have a licensed airport manager, Reynolds, who also serves as chair of the Cheboygan County Airport Authority. There are two assistant managers, Gary Painter and Ken Fuss. The sale of fuel is the primary way the airport generates revenue. It sells 100 low-lead fuel, which is a distilled fuel and costs a little more, around $4.50 per gallon. It is a good fuel particularly when an airplane has sat for a period of time. The fuel will not get any varnish in it and can sit for approximately seven years.
“Then we also have, besides 100 low-lead, we have Jet-A fuel, which is another really refined diesel fuel,” said Reynolds. “That’s what Jet-A is; so we sell that as well.” The Cheboygan County Airport doesn’t have a lot of jet traffic. It typically sells the Jet-A fuel to the Coast Guard and the University of Michigan for its medical flights.
There are a few planes that do use the Jet-A fuel, but a majority of the fuel sales at the airport are of the 100 low-lead. “One hundred low-lead is for general aviation aircraft. That’s aircraft that fly in mostly to a smaller airport like Cheboygan. Last year we sold 7,851 gallons, and we’re up to 9,095 gallons that we have sold this year,” said Reynolds. “So there’s some growth there.” In addition to fuel sales, the airport generates revenue renting hangars.Currently, all of the hangars at the airport are full.
With the help of Cheboygan County, the airport participates in a grant program each year, which is 90 percent federal funds, 5 percent state and 5 percent local match. The county helps with the 5 percent match. Establishing a cross-wind runway is one of the most recent projects the airport has completed with the grant funding. The project was a challenge because the airport needed approvals for the easements from the property owners around the airport and had to provide for a 20-to-1 glide ratio. “So, we had to take some trees down, and it was a little bit of a challenge to get that done. But we did get that done. The cross-wind runway is open; it’s a 35-17 runway now,” said Reynolds. “35 means 350 degrees.”
Years ago, when the airport was paved in 1972, it should have been put in as a north to west runway, but it was put in as an east to west runway. Most winds come out of the northwest in this area, and that is why the airport authority decided to put in the cross-wind runway. “So, it’s more of a safety thing than anything else,” said Reynolds. “ Cross winds are the most difficult condition in which to land a plane. When any contamination is added to the runway, whether it is snow, ice or something else, it makes it even more difficult to land.
This was another argument for the installation of the new, short runway. The airport also was able to purchase a new plow truck to maintain the runways, replacing the 1985 plow truck it had been using for years. Crack sealing and painting was also just completed at the airport. The airport is required to open up the runways as soon as the snow flies and the daylight arrives, within two hours. “Probably our biggest challenge in the next little while is that the airport terminal was built in 1972, and it’s getting pretty tired as well,” said Reynolds.
“Unfortunately, MDOT doesn’t fund a lot of that process.” The airport authority will have to present to MDOT what its plans are to update the terminal. MDOT normally only partially funds projects that involve people, which means it will fund upgrades to the lobby area, the bathrooms and areas for pilot lounges and any type of eatery that may be there. However, no office space will be funded by MDOT. “So, we’re trying to work on a plan to update the place and get it more usable, but the dollars rule all the time, so we’re doing our best with that,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds said overall things are going well at the airport and it continues to grow each year. Last year, there were around 10,000 take-offs and landings at the airport. A lot of pilots stop for fuel and enjoy the self-serve option they have on the 100 low-lead fuel, where they just have to ground their airplane, pull up to the pump and run their credit card to get their fuel. “We’re a stop for fuel a lot of times, and that’s what we like, to be able to sell fuel,” said Reynolds. There are tie-down fees, and commercial operations are charged a landing fee by the airport. Anyone who parks at the airport and ties down pays $10 for that service.