Investment expected to give airport a lift

The Columbus Municipal Airport will invest $1.2 million on capital improvement projects next year that will include adding more hangar space, along with renovations to Blackerby’s Hangar 5 Restaurant.

Airport director Brian Payne said the airport intends to build a set of six aircraft condo units, which can be used to house multiple aircraft or a large jet. Construction of that $600,000 project is expected to take place in the spring.

The airport’s 22 T-hangars, which can store one airplane at a time, are all full and the waiting list for hangar space has grown to 10, Payne said.

“Over the course of the last few years, we’ve been very successful in our marketing of the airport and people want to be here,” he said.

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Local aviation officials began talking last fall about the need for hangar development at the airport and visited five airports to see what types of hangars they offer to the public. Payne said a majority of the nice hangars at the airports they visited were filled, while the older ones weren’t.

The airport also sent out more than 700 surveys to pilots in Bartholomew and surrounding counties, and 32 indicated they would consider subletting space in Columbus. Payne said that was important because the type of hangars the Columbus airport is looking to build aren’t available at other airports.

The additional hangar space already has generated interest from at least one person on the waiting list, said Payne, who expects a good return on the financial investment.

The airport also generates operational revenue through renting farmland, fuel sales and land-owned leases at the Columbus AirPark.

It is home to five higher educational institutions: Harrison College, IUPUC, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue Polytechnic Institute and Trine University. More than 65 businesses also are located there.

Developing a vision

Payne said his long-term vision for the Columbus AirPark involves more development, including the possibility of adding restaurants.

The airport also is working with the city on commercial development of the 740-acre former Walesboro airport property, which it owns. The property currently generates $250,000 annually through farming and land leases, Payne said.

However, floodplain maps for Bartholomew County which became effective in 2014 designate a majority of the site as a floodplain, an obstacle to development.

“Progress is being made on further revisions to the floodplain map to improve the accuracy in this area, but the floodplain status established for the property by the 2014 maps remains unchanged,” city-county planning director Jeff Bergman said.

Restaurant expansion

Meanwhile, Blackerby’s Hangar 5 Restaurant in the airport’s main terminal building also will undergo some changes next year. The restaurant will be remodeled, with 20 to 25 more seats added by removing the back counter in the restaurant. That project is estimated to cost $225,000.

Caleb Blackerby, who has operated the restaurant for 10 years, said the upgrades are meant to bring aesthetics in line with the rest of the terminal building, which underwent a major remodeling that was completed last year.

He said the restaurant will remain open to customers during the three weeks of renovations, expected to occur in February. The increase in seating capacity will be helpful since customers often have to wait 45 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays to be served, he said.

“It’ll provide a more open and faster experience for the customer,” Blackerby said.

By the end of this year, the airport is improving its airfield by adding 151 LED lights to one of its taxiways. Of the $400,000 cost, 90 percent will be paid by the Federal Aviation Administration, 4 percent by the state of Indiana and the airport picking up the remaining 6 percent.

Payne said the overall improvements will be beneficial to visitors who utilize the airport while also ensuring a safe environment on the airfield.

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Here is a breakdown on how $1.2 million will be spend during 2017 on capital improvement projects at Columbus Municipal Airport.

$600,000: Hangar development

$250,000: Grant match for Federal Aviation Administration projects

$160,000: Restaurant remodel

$70,000: Restaurant furniture

$50,000: Roof, gate and crack sealing improvements

$50,000: Expansion of Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum (subject to change)

$32,000: Snow-removal equipment and mower

$16,500: Annual stipend for Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum

$10,000: Farming equipment upgrades

$4,000: Office computers

Source: Columbus Municipal Airport

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Columbus Municipal is conducting an online survey to gauge interest in providing commercial air service out of Columbus. The 16-question survey, which asks specifically about the possibility of providing passenger service to Detroit, can be found at this link: