Crawfordsville Regional Airport wrapped a year of successes under new leadership.
“The amount of support given by the board and the mayor to help the airport strive to be more financially stable with the goal of self-sustainability, we’ve been able to market ourselves to general aviation and jet traffic,” said Lori Curless, who was hired as the airport’s new manager in late September 2017. “We’ve been able to focus on customer service and what we can do to not nickel and dime our customers, but to get reoccurring business while valuing our current customers.”
Curless’ first full year of managing the airport brought about changes that are making this regional asset a household name in the corporate and pleasure aviation sectors.
One of her first goals was to evaluate the financial stability of the airport to ensure its sustainability long-term. As a municipally-owned business, it is important that it sustain its own operations and not become a burden on taxpayers.
An effective way to do that is via fuel sales. Through Curless’ efforts, Jet A fuel sales saw a 53 percent increase in 2018 over 2017 sales, due in large part to the implementation of volume discounts in March 2018.
In fact, total fuel sales in all categories for 2018 increased 31 percent over 2017 and an impressive 54 percent over sales in 2016. In addition, she eliminated landing and user fees and maintained 100 percent of T-hangar occupancy.
Her increased efforts in airfield maintenance and new investment in the facility are making the airport a state-of-the art operation.
Another goal for Curless was to make the airport more accessible to the community. In 2018, they hosted Airport Community Day.
The day-long event provided an opportunity to see and explore various aircraft, including the IU Health Lifeline helicopter, radio-controlled aircraft demonstrations, food vendors, and other activities for families. Planning for this year’s event Sept. 7 is currently underway. This year also marks the airport’s 75th anniversary.
In 2018, the airport also successfully completed a State Board of Accounts audit with no findings in 2017. Overall, Curless’ implementation of best practices in airport operations led to the airport ending its year 15 percent under projected expenditures and a 10 percent increase in its cash balance.
“We made a lot of changes last year,” Curless said. “In doing so, our hope is the airport leaves a positive first and last impression about Crawfordsville and Montgomery County.”
Looking at goals for this year, a priority will be a complete evaluation of hangar lease rates and charges. During a preliminary review in 2017, records indicated the lease rates had remained the same since 2002 even though airport operation expenses — like all businesses — had increased over that 15-year span. Curless and the Board of Aviation Commissioners then implemented a $10 increase per lease.
Beginning this year, they will develop a best practice hangar lease strategy that will support airport lease operations going forward. Airport hangar leases can be a competitive and sustaining revenue stream when facilitated effectively. Monies from lease rates can be used for repairs and on-going maintenance to ensure a safe and reliable airport operation for pilots, crew, and passengers.
Maintaining a good standing with the FAA also makes this initiative a priority. Recognized by the FAA as an airport of national importance to the airport system, the airport is one of only 64 airports in the state that receives FAA grants. As part of the terms, the airport must maintain rates and charges that make it as self-sustaining as possible. Finally, maintaining best practices in the facilitation of hangar leases and lease rates will ensure appropriate lease protections to the city and its stakeholders.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the work Lori and the Board of Aviation Commissioners have done this past year,” Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said. “Through collaboration and leadership, we are transforming our airport into a world-class regional amenity.”