Jean Bowers Abilene Reflector-Chronicle
Airport an Unexpected Asset
March 8, 2019
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  • A lot happens at Abilene Municipal Airport K78: Private planes and small jets take off and land. People skydive onto one of two dedicated drop zones in the state every weekend the weather is good. People take lessons, learning to fly. Crop dusting and agricultural work is done. Students from K-State Polytechnic learn to use a non-towered airport. Airplane maintenance and service is done. Air ambulance service is provided.

    A lot of people who come out for the airport’s annual pancake day, May 4 this year, say, “gee, I didn’t realize there was an airport out there that was busy,” said Jim Price.

    Price has logged a lot of flight time out of the airport, and he is chairman of the city’s aviation advisory committee. The city owns the general aviation airport.

    Price recently was honored by the Young Eagles program for giving more than 200 youngsters free flights in a small airplane. That puts him in the top 10 percent of the 50,000 pilots in the program.

    He gives many of the flying lessons. He and Jim Curtis, airport manager, are certified to instruct student pilots earning everything from private to commercial licenses.

    They haven’t kept track of how many students they’ve taught, but “it’s a bunch,” Price said, two or three a year.

    Besides their own pupils, student pilots from Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus use Abilene K78 to train, taking off and landing at a non-towered airport.

    For a  small airport, Abilene’s K78 has a big effect on the area’s economy.

    According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, Division of Aviation, Abilene Municipal has a direct output of benefits associated with on-airport businesses and government tenants of $1,218,500. Its indirect output, usually money spent away from the airport and attributed to visitor spending, is $316,300.

    Because the airport is only a mile from town, highly unusual, Curtis said, it’s easy to head to Abilene. You could walk, but the airport keeps two retired police vehicles as courtesy cars, he said.

    The multiplier effect or benefits resulting for recirculating the money from direct and indirect outputs is $1,108,000.

    Thirty people have salaries directly attributable to Abilene Municipal, although only one employee at the airport is full time, manager Jim Curtis. KDOT counts part-time employees as half a full-time.

    As airport manager, Curtis is employed by the city.

    The city used some federal funds to buy 160 acres of river bottom land in 1946 to build the airport.

    At the time, Wright Field, a private field with a single north-south strip that did mostly agricultural work was next door, Price said.

    The airport still uses federal funds. The city usually has to match them, sometimes putting up only 10 percent. State grants are available, too, Curtis said.

    “We get roughly $150,000 a year from federal excise tax,” he said.

    The tax on fuel goes to the distributor for the purpose of improving the airport.

    “Over the years, we spent lots of money improving the runway,” he said.

    The runway has been extended a couple of times, from 2,400 to 3,000 feet, and in 1982-83, it was extended to 4,100.

    Three years ago, the asphalt was overlaid with concrete, Curtis said.

    The runway is just long enough for corporate jets to use and some do.

    “It’s a little short for them,” Curtis said. “Some prefer to go to Salina.”

    Price and Curtis would like to see the runway extended to 5,000 feet which is standard for this altitude, Price said, but there’s a catch.

    “If we had a 5,000-foot runway we could get the traffic,” Price said. “We can’t get the 5,000-foot runway because we don’t have the traffic.”

    Curtis runs Abilene Flying Service which provides fuel, maintenance, hangar space, apron tie-downs, aircraft rental, and flight instruction. That employs himself and two-three part-timers, Curtis said.

    “We do a lot of maintenance work,” Price said. “Every airplane every year. If people did their cars that way, they’d last a lot longer. We’re mandated to do it.”

    On planes Curtis rents, he has to maintain them every 100 hours which might be a couple of times a year, Price said.

    Curtis has two agricultural airplanes and at the beginning of summer, he’ll be busy crop-dusting, flying in and out several times a day.

    Right now, most of the traffic is small planes. The airport has 22 planes stationed there.

    Kyle Campbell, president and CEO of Astra Bank, flies sometimes several times a week for business or for personal pleasure.

    Price taught Kyle Campbell to fly a small private plane about 12 years ago.

    Campbell said, “It’s very well maintained and a good business asset.”

    Skydive K-State, the official parachute club of Kansas State University, keeps its plane there, as well. Skydive K-State is the only student club to own its own plane and its own jump zone, president Kevin Dice said.

    “We’re very grateful to call Abilene home,” Dice said.

    The club, which is about to celebrate its 55th anniversary, moved from the Wamego Airport to Abilene in 2012.

    The club not only has its own plane, it has its own jump zone, one of only two in Kansas. The other is near Derby.

    About 100 people go through the first jump courses every year, Dice said.

    Every nice Saturday and Sunday starting in March, Skydive K-State is out doing what they do.

    “Even though jumping out of an airplane feels very unnatural, you just have to have confidence in your ability and your training,” Dice said.

    And when they’ve landed for the last time that day, they usually head to town and spend some of that second-round impact money.