It’s no surprise that runway length makes a big difference in the planes an airport can handle. Ottumwa has made a significant effort to lengthen the main runway, and now it wants to go further.
But nothing can happen until some preliminary steps are taken. First up: an environmental assessment.
The city received an $81,000 grant earlier in March to help cover the costs of the assessment. It was announced by Rep. Dave Loebsack’s office and on Thursday Loebsack was in Ottumwa to see things for himself.
It’s not just the size of the plane that a runway affects. The type matters, too. Corporations want to be able to use their own jets to come in and out of an airport. Mike Bainbridge, a member of Ottumwa’s airport advisory board, told Loebsack the city sees a future for the airport as a business hub more so than as a passenger airport.
“We are basically trying to turn it toward corporate traffic,” he said. “I’m hoping that we can build a real nice corporate environment.”
Part of that effort is already underway. The airport is looking at improving pilot amenities, including televisions and quiet spaces pilots can rest in while waiting for their clients to return. Loebsack said steps like that can help, but there’s a big difference between government being able to support local airports and the decisions companies make
There’s no set tipping point for when an airport becomes a corporate hub that helps draw business in, as Ottumwa envisions. In the end, it’s a business decision.
“It’s a public-private partnership, and that’s happening more and more frequently,” Loebsack said. “For me it’s about bringing economic opportunities to the area.”
The runway expansion must pass a number of regulatory hurdles before it can happen. There’s no question the space the city wants to use was originally part of the Naval Air Station, and Bainbridge described the city’s position as “give us back what we had.”
Eric Johnston, a consulting engineer working with the airport on the project, said the work on the runway is significant.
“It’s going to be a larger project,” he said, “but there’s a lot of support for it.”
The airport’s origins as a training installation crops up in other ways, too. There are spaces originally designated as “landing pads,” but no one is quite sure what was meant by that. And the federal government still has a claim on some of the sites, making it difficult to demolish dilapidated buildings.
Bainbridge said the sites those buildings are on are very attractive to businesses looking to locate near the airport. Once the cost established by the federal government is figured in it is generally not competitive, though. Demolishing the buildings, which are generally in very poor condition, would help.