The importance of Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field to the community became apparent to Indiana congressman Larry Bucshon on Friday during an Aviation Day visit to the airport and related industries.
“The airport and the 181st Intelligence Wing are big economic drivers for the Terre Haute area,” Bucshon said following a visit to the Air National Guard base adjacent to the airport.
Many people in the community rely on the 181st not only for its national security role, but for employment, the congressman pointed out.
“It is a hidden gem,” Chamber of Commerce president David Haynes said of the airport. “Much like people in our community don’t really know what the 181st offers in terms of employment and significance in our national events.”
Community leaders, however, see the airport as an asset to be promoted and developed.
Airport Executive Director Jeff Hauser said the airport had more than 65,000 operations last year, the majority of which were attributed to charter flights and to the Indiana State University aviation program at the airport.
Air traffic manager Jim Gruenewald said that 70 to 80 percent of the air traffic handled in the control tower is connected to the ISU student training and flight school students. A medical air ambulance is also stationed at the airport, and the tower can monitor air traffic approaching Indianapolis and Evansville, and as far away as Kansas City.
“This is a moderately busy general aviation airport,” Gruenewald said of the facility. “We take a lot of pride in our work.”
Bucshon also saw the connection between two other community employers when he took a morning tour of GE Aviation in Terre Haute and an afternoon visit to the Stark Industries facility at the airport.
Stark Industries produces and prototypes metals, plastics and composites for the aerospace, unmanned systems, heavy industrial and medical industries. GE Aviation provides jet engines, components and integrated systems for commercial and military aircraft.
The connection between those two companies struck the congressman as he toured Stark. “Hey, I just saw one of these at GE Aviation,” Bucshon said as he picked up a component at Stark Industries. “That’s because we make it for them,” replied Jeff Stark, company president.
Hauser said the airport authority, which oversees projects at the facility, is planning an improvement project for the exterior of the terminal building and has secured federal funding for a $2 million runway project.
The chamber’s Haynes agreed that the airport needs to be maintained as a community asset.
“I think it will ultimately play a role as our economic development efforts continue. Having this airport is a key element,” Haynes said.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.