Members of the Hastings City Council agreed Monday that there was merit to reviving the city’s airport advisory board and to actively look at increasing traffic at the Hastings Municipal Airport.
Council members met at the airport terminal for their October work session Monday and heard a presentation from Hastings Airport Association members Aaron Schardt and Matt Kuhr about the current state of the airport and solutions to increase general aviation use there.
Local pilots and aviation enthusiasts formed the Hastings Airport Association earlier this year to advocate for the future of the airport. Several Hastings Airport Association members attended Monday’s meeting.
“If airports don’t have an advocate, they fall by the wayside,” Schardt said.
In crafting a report for Monday’s meeting, the Hastings Airport Association members included several statistics showing usage of how the Hastings airport lags behind comparable airports across Nebraska.
With nearly 11,000 feet of available runways and available fuel, the Hastings airport is a top-10 facility in the state, Hastings Airport Association representatives said.
Since the city of Hastings took over the airport from the Hastings Airport Authority when the Airport Authority disbanded in 2002, the airport has received more than $2 million in federal funding.
They included a list of 26 businesses and organizations that use the airport.
During the meeting, Justin Osborne read a letter from Dave Rippe, executive director of the Hastings Economic Development Corporation, which stated the value of the airport, including how it serves as a front door to Hastings for many visitors to the community.
Rippe wrote that the airport was the entry to Hastings for executives from large corporations evaluating whether to potentially open a new location in the community or keep an existing location open.
There are 81 airports in Nebraska that allow general aviation — non-commercial aviation, which makes up the majority of all flights.
Of the 25 largest communities in Nebraska, 15 airports are owned by Airport Authorities and 10, such as Hastings, are owned directly by their respective communities.
Of the 10 that are owned by the community, Hastings is the only airport without a fixed base operator — a business contracted to provide airport services.
Last year, Hastings sold 46,800 gallons of fuel. By comparison, the Norfolk airport sold 213,000 gallons of fuel and Fremont sold 103,000 gallons.
Schardt said out-of-state pilots look for airports with the best services when selecting where to stop to refuel during cross-country flights.
“You’ve got to look at the reverse side of things as much as the expenses,” Schardt said. “That’s important.”
The airport operated on a $24,532 deficit in 2014.
“We spent a lot more than $24,000 on a lot less,” Schardt said.
He reminded the council that with the right services in place, the airport has the opportunity to generate enough revenue to offset expenses.
Council members Michael Krings and Chuck Niemeyer both expressed interest in re-establishing an airport advisory board, which would include at least one pilot, one non-pilot and one council member. The council members also thanked city staff for the diligent effort put forth to run the airport since 2002.
Hastings Airport Association members also offered the recommendation of re-establishing the Airport Authority, which would take over control of the airport from the city, be a political subdivision and operate on a levy-funded budget.
“You’ve got to walk before you can run and that’s running,” city administrator Joe Patterson said.