Editorial: Airports earning their keep
August 6, 2013
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  • Some Topekans, recently and over the years, have questioned the need for two publicly funded airports in a city of our size and suggested one would be sufficient.

    Perhaps they are right, but the economic impact the airports deliver — an estimated $14 million by Philip Billard Municipal Airport and $99.6 million by Topeka Regional Airport at Forbes Field — for the money taxpayers are contributing make each a viable operation in its own right and justifies the expense.

    Given, too, that the airports serve different functions and needs, it doesn’t appear that closing one of them just to be closing something would serve any real purpose. Closing an airport also could be very costly in its own right. A regular flyer to and from Philip Billard told The Topeka Capital-Journal recently it could cost tens of millions of dollars to shift the Philip Billard operation to Topeka Regional and build the necessary hangers to house the Philip Billard fleet.

    The Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority also would have to reimburse the FAA for projects it has funded at Philip Billard that haven’t yet met their life expectancy, if Philip Billard were selected for closing.

    Clearly, closing Philip Billard could prove to be a case of “penny wise and pound foolish.” And as long as the Kansas Air National Guard’s 190th Air Refueling Wing is based at Forbes Field, closing Topeka Regional Airport isn’t even an option.

    MTAA officials do plan to increase the organization’s property tax levy for next year — to 2.044 mills from 1.220 mills — to fund air traffic control operations at one airport, most likely Philip Billard, if that becomes necessary and a runway improvement project at Topeka Regional. If the FAA decides to continue funding the air traffic control at Philip Billard and Topeka Regional, money budgeted for that expense wouldn’t have to be spent.

    The runway improvement project at Topeka Regional, which is home to the 190th Air Refueling Wing, isn’t optional, but MTAA officials have said that portion of the tax increase, about 0.378 mills for the next three years, would drop off the organization’s levy once the project was completed. The runway is a $20 million project for which the MTAA’s local match is $1.6 to $2 million. It’s a sound investment.

    MTAA’s decision to raise property taxes follows a five-year period during which the organization has reduced its mill levy four times. That indicates the MTAA board prefers to be frugal with the taxpayers’ dollars and are overseeing a well-run operation — one capable of maintaining two airports that give the taxpayers good value for their money.