While the Culpeper AirFest is celebrating 20 years, the home of the ‘Best Little Airshow in the East’ is marking its golden anniversary.
Tanya Woodward, Culpeper Regional Airport Manager said the AirFest helps highlight what makes the Culpeper airport special.
“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase the airport and the tenants we have here,” Woodward said.
Culpeper’s airport has grown in 50 years. Originally, there were two airports in Culpeper. The one located out U.S. 29 and another located near where the Best Western is in town. The town and county decided there needed to be just one and the two airports were consolidated into one. When that happened, there were only seven temporary hangers at the airport located at 12517 Beverly Ford Road in Brandy Station.
Now, the airport is home to 140 hangers, 158 based aircraft in Culpeper, two corporate hangers and 30 people on the waiting list.
“We have a wonderful culture here at the airport,” Woodward said. “All of our tenants get excited about it (the AirFest). The people who have hangars on the taxiway – which I call the oceanfront – they all have friends and family come. That’s their biggest event they do every year.”
While the county has always owned the airport, it didn’t actually take over operation until 1988. Prior to that, fixed base operators ran it. Now, the county airport is self-sustaining, not needing any tax dollars to remain operational. It is able to fund itself thanks to hanger fees and jet fuel sales.
“It’s very rare for a general aviation airport to be able to do that,” Woodward said. “We are the second busiest non-towered airport in the state of Virginia.”
Leesburg is the only non-towered airport that sees more traffic.
Local pilot Steve Nixon, a former Board of Supervisor for the West Fairfax District, touted that Culpeper’s airport has continued to grow over the years while other airports have seen stagnant moments.
“The nice thing about Culpeper, compared to other airports, is that we’ve steadily grown over the years,” Nixon said. “We’ve really grown all the way through. Part of that is due to good management, part of that is due to location, part of that is due to the pilot community.”
The airport is continuing to look to grow, hoping to add another 40 acres to the current 300.
“We are in the process of purchasing some property, we’re going to put a road up down over the end to get to the other side of the field,” Woodward said.
When the airport first opened, it was around 200 acres. The runway has been lengthened three times since then, and another extension is being contemplated. That would set the runway at 5,500 feet – which is likely the max.
The airport is home many jets and can accomodate a plane as large as a Gulfstream 10. Most of the jets that call the airport home are Lear Jets, Citations and Falcon jets.
“Pilots talk to other pilots and tell them how great it is here,” Nixon said.
Most of the planes that are housed in Culpeper are owned from people outside the county. It illustrates the positive economic impact the airport has on the community.
“People are coming here, spending time at the airport, eating lunch from the airport, sometimes staying at our hotels, they don’t draw anything from the county,” Nixon said. “The other aspect is that they get familiar with the county and want to move here. When retired people move here, they don’t have kids so again the tax revenue we get from the houses they buy doesn’t cost anything. The third thing is it attracts businesses.”
Woodward and her staff pride themselves on the friendly customer service they provide pilots flying into Culpeper – they know they are often making the first impression for the county.
“The airport is the gateway, this is the first thing most businesses see is the airport,” Nixon said. “We’ve gotten a lot of really good businesses that have come here and liked the airport and wanted to base themselves in Culpeper.”