The Hastings Municipal Airport has seen a dramatic increase over the last five years in fuel sales, as well as a growth in incoming traffic including everything from corporate jets to military aircraft.
Airport manager Deb Bergmann and Airport Advisory Board member Aaron Schardt gave a presentation on the airport’s economic value to the Hastings community during the Hastings City Council work session on Monday.
“It’s been a lot of teamwork, and I think we’ve accomplished a lot, and I think if we keep working together there’s probably no limit to what we can do,” Bergmann said.
The Nebraska Aviation Council has taken notice, too. Hastings will play host the Nebraska State Fly-In on June 19-20.
Schardt made a similar presentation in 2016. Back then, Hastings was far behind peer cities when it came to airport activity.
Five years ago, the Hastings Municipal Airport sold a total of 46,800 gallons of fuel for the year, which was comparable to sales in Beatrice — a city about half the size of Hastings.
“It was clear from the data we weren’t keeping up,” Schardt said Monday.
Then, in 2019, the city hired fixed-base operator Hastings Air.
In 2020, Hastings sold a total of 90,493 gallons, which was a 93.3% increase from 2016 — and that was when Hastings Air hadn’t yet had a chance to establish itself and the airport also was dealing with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
Since 2016, the Hastings Municipal Airport has also completed nine of its 10 improvement goals from five years ago.
In addition to the fixed-base operator, the airport has established courtesy ground transport, provided food and catering, aircraft rental, coordinated flight training, provided fuel delivery, offer after hours access to terminate building, improve fuel policy and spruce up the terminal building.
Airport officials still are working on providing aircraft maintenance.
“The airport, especially now that we have the FBO, and we have the fueling ability, is attractive,” Schardt said. “That’s really fun for this town, because as you know, money doesn’t come on a bus, it comes via private jet — and we see a lot of those come through.”
The airport sees private jets almost daily.
“That’s something I couldn’t say five years ago,” he said.
The airport is an important economic development asset and sees about 19,000 operations annually.
Airport infrastructure is funded primarily with federal taxes levied on aircraft fuel.
Unlike most transportation assets, the airport generates revenue through fuel sales, crop production through farm ground rental, hangar rentals and federal grant apportionment.
The terminal was built about 40 years ago for commercial aviation.
The Hastings Municipal Airport now is a general-aviation airport.
General aviation is everything from piston aircraft to turbo props to jets, agricultural aviation and general aviation.
Schardt said 90% of all takeoffs are general aviation.
“Most of the public thinks about commercial: Omaha, Lincoln, even Grand Island and getting on a commercial aircraft,” he said. “(General aviation) is actually the majority of it.
“We’re a general-aviation airport. We’re probably never going to be a commercial airport, not since the 1980s. With the advent of Grand Island and their new terminal building, in my opinion it would be pretty tough to get back to all the (Transportation Security Administration) requirements. We want to be the best general-aviation airport in the country.”
The airport has perpendicular runways of 6,500 feet and 4,500 feet.
Hastings has a Remote Communication Outlet, which allows instrument pilots to call directly to Minneapolis through the airport.
“You don’t have to get on the telephone,” Schardt said. “You just click the radio and we actually have a dedicated link to a tower, which goes, somehow, to Minneapolis and you can open a flight plan.”
The RCO allows pilots traveling across the country to save time opening a flight plan opened, being able to do that by radio instead of a phone call.
“That’s important,” Schardt said. “People will come here specifically for that.”
He said Kearney does not have that. Grand Island only has that when its tower is open.
Hastings has six instrument approaches, automated weather reporting, full-lighted taxiways, visual approach slope indicator, 28 aircraft based there and is non-tower controlled.
“We have a really good infrastructure, and it’s been maintained really quite well,” he said.
In the past seven months, Hastings Air has seen three new pilots certified, five contract instructors, 14 current students, two students close to earning their private pilot licenses, 126 hours of aircraft rental, and seven new aircraft renting hangers.
“This is great to see,” Schardt said. “This is what you want. The public’s getting engaged. We’re getting more pilots. They’re talking about it. The airport’s doing what the airport’s supposed to be doing.”
The rest of the state has noticed the Hastings Municipal Airport’s growth, too.
Hastings will play host to the Nebraska State Fly-In for the first time in about 15 years.
The Fly-In, to take place June 19 and 20, includes a pancake breakfast, air show, dance and the World War II b-29 Superfortress “Doc” on display and available for rides.
“Guys, this is going to be a really fantastic show,” Schardt said.