Christopher “Doc” Bailey says the airplanes he makes are easy to fly.
“They’re economical, they’re easy to maintain, they’re smaller, you can put two or three of them in a hangar,” he said. “It’s brought aviation affordability back to the airport.”
Bailey, a light sport aircraft manufacturer and owner of Renegade Light Sport Aircraft who is also hoping to bring rescheduled air races to DeLand in January, and city officials want to see the development of a sport aviation village at the DeLand Municipal Airport for the small, recreational planes.
“The light sport industry is a new category of aircraft,” said Airport Manager John Eiff. “They’re smaller, less regulated, more economical.”
The mostly two-seaters are also quieter, he said.
The first phase of the sport aviation village could break ground this summer and could eventually feature more than 40 hangars, including six for manufacturing, although the plan is flexible, according to DeLand Public Services Director Keith Riger and Eiff. Development of additional phases would be driven by demand.
DeLand is already home to a number of companies in the parachute industry, and those businesses work together, Eiff said. He hopes to see the same thing in the light sport aviation industry.
“They all use a lot of common parts,” he said. “So you may have like a paint shop that takes care of everybody or a welding shop that takes care of everybody, instead of everybody having to put in a paint shop or a welding shop.”
Bailey, who has been at the airport for two years, gave an example of a composite part that he uses but another company makes.
“We don’t make that, but we subcontract that out,” he said. “Why not subcontract it out here, rather than North Carolina?”
He also compared the planned village to an auto mall.
“One light sport plane doesn’t do everything for anybody,” he said. “But if they know that all they have to do is come to one place to see 10 different airplanes, wouldn’t you rather do that than driving from here to Ft. Lauderdale to see a Honda, go to somewhere to see a Chevy, go somewhere to see another car?”
The city would prepare and construct building pads and set up infrastructure for the sport aviation village. It is expected to cost about $1 million for the planning and permitting of the village and the city’s construction on the first phase, according to Eiff, and would be 80 percent funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. The remaining cost would be paid for by money from business leases at the airport.
DeLand isn’t the only area airport working with the light sport airplane industry. Super Petrel USA Inc. recently leased a hangar at Ormond Beach Municipal Airport for an aircraft assembly/sales/distribution and parts facility.
Joe Mannarino, Ormond Beach’s economic development director, said the city’s hope is the company eventually adds a manufacturing component.
“They’re still testing the market,” he said
He said the airport has additional land available for development and would welcome more light sport aviation businesses.
“It’s great to have markets that open up for airports so that we can lease properties and grow businesses on the airport,” he said.
Separate from the light sport village at DeLand Municipal Airport, the city is also planning a general aviation complex that would feature a new administration building. It would be 6,400 square feet. Airport administration currently works out of a small office space in the maintenance building.
“We just need bigger facilities because we’re growing so fast,” Eiff said.
The new space will have a meeting room that can hold at least 50 people.
The general aviation complex would cost $2.5 million and be funded the same way as the sport aviation village, although the airport is also seeking additional grant funds for the project, Eiff said. In addition to the administration building, four box hangars would be built, an existing ramp would be rehabbed and a new one would be added.
The plan is for work on the complex to start this fall and should be completed in two years if anticipated funding comes through on time, Eiff said.
Nick Conte Jr., executive director of the DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce & Orange City Alliance, is excited about the airport’s future: “It’s our next development frontier,” he said.