The days of Washington Regional Airport being a “sleepy, little airport” are over, or at least that is the perspective offered after the Washington City Council agreed Monday to seek construction bids for new hangars at the airport, six months after tabling the project.
“I think people have the idea that we are a sleepy, little airport, but we aren’t. We are not a small, general aviation airport anymore, we are so much more than that,” said Kevin Hellmann, Washington Regional Airport manager, who said the airport needs more hangars to accommodate the increased demand it has seen since the mid-2000s when a new, longer runway was constructed.
With unanimous approval from the council, the city will now seek bids to construct eight steel hangars. Contractors have the option to submit alternative bids for up to an additional four hangars. When the project is completed, the airport will be able to house up to 36 aircraft. The newest hangars were built in 2013.
“I honestly wish we could build bigger hangars to accommodate the bigger aircraft, but this is a start,” Hellmann said. The new hangars, which city officials had initially hoped to have constructed by late 2021, were delayed in September 2020 due to concerns over rising steel prices and upticks in labor costs.
“The initial project was going to be about $1.07 million (for an eight-bay hangar). We honestly have no idea how much it might cost now. We’ve heard that prices could have increased by almost 40 percent,” said Washington Public Works Director John Nilges. A 12-bay hangar was once projected to cost about $1.2 million.
Nilges said Washington would likely be among the first to build new hangars since the price increase, according to the hangars’ architects.
“The strategy of holding on, of not moving forward is not panning out,” Nilges said.
Fourth Ward Councilman Joe Holtmeier agreed, saying that “it is not going to get any cheaper” to build the new hangars.
This will be the first time the city has asked for hangar bids. If all incoming bids are rejected, it would cost an additional $10,000 to later rebid the project, Nilges said. The city will be using a combination of state and federal money to finance the construction.
The construction of the hangar will be paid for, in part, with money from the Airport Entitlement Fund or the Non-Primary Entitlement Fund, which are funds administered by the state on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The city-owned airport receives $150,000 annually from the Non-Primary Entitlement Fund, which can only be spent on airport improvements. The city has banked $450,000 so far — and the money must be spent or be forfeited back to the federal government.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is paying $556,000 toward the hangar construction. This is money that Washington’s city government would have been tasked with paying had the state transportation department not stepped in.
The city’s capital improvement sales tax fund will pay nothing toward the project; instead Washington will pay $34,799 from its general fund.
The airport, which features a 5,000-foot by 75-foot runway, with night landing capability, is located three miles north of Washington in southern Warren County along Highway 47.
Hellmann said since the new runway’s construction, the airport is routinely used by pilots who previously chartered flights out of the Spirit of St. Louis airport or St. Louis Lambert International Airport. These pilots are flying company officials, suppliers, builders and other business leaders for Washington’s growing industrial industries, Hellmann said.
“It used to be a handful of the industries in Washington used the airport — not anymore. Now, many of the industries are using the airport, bringing in jets of people who are utilizing our restaurants, our hotels and car rentals,” said Hellmann, who added there are 50-plus pilots who are on the airport’s wait list for hangar space.
This statistic didn’t surprise First Ward Councilman Steve Sullentrup, who also serves on the airport’s advisory committee.
“We have more to offer these pilots than other municipal airports,” Sullentrup said.
The more pilots who use the airport, the better, according to Hellmann.
“Our best projection is that we will make about $26,000 a year on hangar rentals, but we will also see increased fuel sales,” Hellmann said. “All in all, these new hangars are going to pay for themselves pretty quickly.”