Columbus Municipal Airport has come a long way in just over four decades. Its recent selection as Indiana Airport of the Year is testament to the vision and dedicated work of city leaders and volunteers to make the airport a valuable asset that benefits the community and region.

The airport earned top honors from the Aviation Association of Indiana in a competition open to all public-use airports statewide.

That’s quite a feather in the cap of a facility that at one point was deemed military surplus after serving as an air base for about 30 years before being handed over to the city.

Atterbury Air Force Base opened in February 1943 and played a valuable role in World War II before being deactivated in 1946. Reactivated in 1949 and renamed Bakalar Air Force Base in November 1954, the installation remained in use until deactivated a final time in December 1971 and turned over to the city.

The property consisted then of an airfield with two runways and a handful of wooden buildings that had to be torn down. How times have changed.

Columbus Municipal Airport sustains itself with revenue earned by renting farmland, fuel sales and land-owned leases at the Columbus AirPark, where more than 65 businesses make their home. The AirPark also is home to higher learning institutions: IUPUC, Ivy Tech Community College Columbus, Harrison College, Trine University and Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

Next to the airport terminal is the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum, which plays a key role in local history and tourism, and in 2014 completed an expansion project to better serve the community.

The airport benefits the region with its annual Aviation Day event, which draws and entertains thousands, and also with its Educational Pathways Initiative, a program that allows students from prekindergarten through college to learn about aviation. The high school portion of that pathway, Aviation Nation, launched this school year and participating students are building an airplane. The airport’s partnership with Ivy Tech allows the college to offer an aviation program for students.

Columbus Municipal Airport, the fourth-busiest in the state behind Indianapolis, Lafayette and Terre Haute, has a $650 million economic impact annually on the local community.

The Airport of the Year honor is something the community should take pride in. It’s a reflection of decades of efforts by local residents to create a viable airport that plays an important role in the Columbus area and regionally.

Contributions by those who have helped the airport grow over the years are to be commended. The result is a city gem.