OTTUMWA — Aviation enthusiasts aren’t the only people excited about Ottumwa’s August airshow. Organizations actively developing Ottumwa’s economy see Fly Ottumwa as an important promotional tool.
“This is one of our signature events,” said Andy Wartenberg, director of Greater Ottumwa Convention and Visitors Bureau. CVB isn’t planning the event, but it’s providing marketing support for it.
“This is such a fantastic event for so many reasons,” Wartenberg said. Ottumwa has nearly 505 hotel rooms, “and last year they had 100 percent occupancy. But not only was that for … visitors coming to see the show but also extended stays of pilots and jet rally pilots.”
Ottumwa hosted Fly Iowa in 2017, an event awarded to a different Iowa town each year. Its success encouraged organizers to launch a yearly airshow in Ottumwa. The 2018 airshow begins Friday, Aug. 24, and ends Sunday, Aug. 26.
“This is really the premier air show in Iowa,” Wartenberg said, and it doesn’t affect Ottumwa during show weekend only. “We have the impact of the visitors, but it’s an opportunity for us to showcase Ottumwa for people who want to come here for future visits,” Wartenberg said.
Fly Ottumwa reaches farther than Wapello and adjacent counties. “They have people come from all over the Midwest.” The fact that Fly Ottumwa is a family event is a big draw, Wartenberg said.
Bringing people to Ottumwa to spend their money here and enticing businesses to set up shop here are two payoffs of an annual airshow, said Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio.
“It’s good for Ottumwa in the sense that we bring people in from the outside,” Lazio said, but it can also result in a long-term investment in the community.
“People are coming from all over,” Lazio said. Tickets have been sold in Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
“It’s bringing in business from outside. Having them spend money on food, gas, hotels.” This generates money from local option sales tax. Using Iowa Tourism Bureau formulas, last year’s airshow put more than a $1.5 million into Ottumwa’s economy, Lazio said.
Fly Ottumwa also gives a positive view of the town. Residents complain about potholes and construction — the project on East Main Street is taking longer than the city expected — but Fly Ottumwa showcases the positives, Lazio said.
Beyond that, putting Ottumwa Regional Airport on display could lure jobs to the area. “We’ve got to see what an asset the airport is.”
According to industry analysis, 85 percent of economic development comes from existing businesses, Lazio said. Having a premier show that brings in 20,000 people to see what Ottumwa has to offer translates into publicity for the town, the airport and economic opportunities not for new businesses only, but for expansion of existing companies.
“We hope … they go out and talk to other people,” Lazio said. “We hope that generates business.”
“I think the airport is an anchor for us,” Lazio said. Fly Ottumwa exposes that asset to potential businesses. “We’re centrally located,” Lazio said, but small enough that the air space is not as limited as farther north.
Last month the Federal Aviation Administration awarded a $3.5 million grant to Ottumwa Regional Airport for reconstruction and extension of the main runway.
The current runway is big enough for most business needs, Lazio said, but the extension will add 100 feet. The new 6,000-foot runway will be the ninth longest in the state.
“Our fuel prices are the best in the state,” Lazio said. The airport has seen a traffic increase due to its low fuel prices. “We’ve had more military stopping, too,” Lazio said.
The most recent figures show flow fees up 176 percent, said Audrey Keck, manager of ArchAngel Flying Services, Ottumwa Regional Airport’s fixed-base operator.
Several planes stopped in Ottumwa to refuel after leaving the Oshkosh airshow in Wisconsin last week, Keck said. Among them, a USSR-era MiG-17. “It had to use its afterburners to take off,” Keck said, because the runway wasn’t long enough.
Transient traffic is up 107 percent, Keck said, and corporate jet traffic is up 200 percent.
“Our airport is the heart of economic development and future expansion,” Lazio said.