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Airport expansion advances

City commissioners OK design contract

By Burk Krohe

Airport expansion took another step forward at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting. Commissioners unanimously approved a design contract with Mead and Hunt, Inc. for a general aviation (GA) apron at Manhattan Regional Airport. But the real discussion revolved around the future of the airport’s fixed base operations (FBO), a commercial business that refuels planes and performs maintenance.

Peter Van Kuren, airport director, said the GA apron really goes hand-in-hand with moving the FBO from its current location next to the terminal to a new building on the east side of the airport.

Van Kuren believes the airport adds value to the region, and the FBO is integral part of it. The FBO services commercial and general aviation planes as well as crop duster planes used for agricultural purposes. Additionally, the FBO arranges security and screening for private charters. 

“When you look at the economic impact that the airport has on the entire region, it’s huge,” Van Kuren said.“Without an FBO on that airport, the airport’s just not able to function at all.”

Discussion of moving the FBO to a new building stems from planned improvements to the terminal in 2014 and the addition of a passenger boarding bridge in 2015. Van Kuren believes the improvements will cause major conflicts for the FBO and general aviation flights.

“At some point in the future there is going to be a need to build this FBO,” Van Kuren said.

Essentially, for the FBO to function properly, it must be located with the new general aviation apron on the east side of the airport. The project will construct about 100,000 square feet of apron and a taxiway connector. It will also include, stormwater drainage, pavement design, an under drain system for draining subsurface water from the apron, edge lighting, circuitry, airfield signs and other miscellaneous items. 

The cost of the design is $199,980 and will be paid with leftover funds from a previous airport project. The construction costs are estimated at $1.8 million. Van Kuren noted that construction will be eligible for a 90/10 split between the Federal Aviation Administration and the city, and the city’s payment for the design contract will count as its 10 percent for the overall project.

However, the airport is still considering its options for the FBO building. Van Kuren saw two choices: The city can fund it from the outset or the FBO can fund the building with a long-term agreement that eventually reverts the asset back to the city.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said the city must weigh that decision carefully.

“I think there needs to be a benefit to the city and the FBO to provide the best possible service,” Jankovich said.

Commissioner Wynn Butler said he didn’t “have a problem with the way this is funded because it doesn’t cost any new money” but said it starts a domino effect. Keeping that in mind, Butler said he would carefully scrutinize the funding mechanism for the FBO building.

Van Kuren admitted there are advantages to owning the building immediately but said the airport hasn’t begun negotiations with the FBO.

Commissioners advised Van Kuren to work with the FBO and bring back a recommendation from the Airport Advisory Board at a future date.

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