Airport Head Sees Room for Growth
January 14, 2016
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  • It’s been just over four months since Charlie May took over operations at the Sterling Municipal Airport. In that time, he’s done some work on the terminal building to improve its appearance and overseen the completion of some major projects — the fuel farm and the runway/taxiway improvements.

    May gave a report to the Sterling City Council at their meeting Tuesday that included an update on those projects and also detailed some ideas for ways to increase the use of the airport and thereby the revenue.

    May said that the fuel storage tanks are awaiting state inspection before they can be put to use. He also noted that the second phase of the runway striping will happen in the spring; spreading out the two coats allows them to get some use out of the first coat and extends the life of the paint job, he said.

    Revenue at the airport has been somewhat stagnant in part because the hangars are nearly full, May said, with just two vacancies. He told the council that there are 32 aircraft based in Sterling — 28 single engine plains, three twins and one turbo prop — but four of those craft are not airworthy, and another five have not been flown in at least a year. That means that other than the rent on the hangars, the airport is not getting any revenue from those planes.

    In 2015, the airport documented 2,008 operations — take offs or landings — a figure that is down from 2,349 in 2014 and the five-year average of 2,719. However, May noted that over that five-year period, there were major renovations at neighboring airports that pushed traffic to Sterling. May predicted an increase this year in operations.

    Fuel sales were also down in 2015 compared to 2014 and the five-year average. May said he hopes that once the new fuel farm is operational, they’ll be able to get the best prices available for resupply and maintain their current fuel prices. He plans to do some “aggressive” advertising to increase fuel sales.

    Rent revenue in 2015 was up slightly at about $25,500; combined with the profit on fuel, they were at about $54,000. May said he looked at the economic impact of the airport, and identified 372 people who flew into Sterling and spent money in restaurants, 24 stays in hotels and 29 various business meetings.

    May said the FAA’s outlook is favorable for general aviation airports, with a growing fleet to lead to increased traffic through 2035. Low fuel prices, growing security concerns in commercial aviation and the increasing number of canceled commercial flights are expected to prompt more growth in business use of general aviation than recreational use.

    May suggested the city council reconsider the airport’s 20-year reversion clause on development leases. The clause means that if a private developer builds a hanger on the airport property, they pay a lease for the land for 20 years, at which time the hangar becomes city property. May said he has found that such requirements discourage development as well as pride of ownership — when such leases expire, the city is left with a building in need of major repair. He said the airport has plenty of land available for hangar development, and he feels that the revenue from new land leases and increased fuel sales, as well as additional sales tax on materials and even the possibility of added jobs, would benefit the city more than the reversion clause.

    He noted that the lack of hangar space has hurt the airport, such as the loss of an acrobatics competition that was previously held there, and the inability to accommodate larger aircraft.

    Of the 10 hangar buildings the city owns now, May said the majority are in good shape, with a couple needing repairs. There is one hangar that the city sold that is being used for storage rather than an aircraft hangar.

    May said this year he plans to make some cosmetic repairs to improve the airport’s image. He is working with city staff on ways to correct some issues he feels have resulted from lax oversight of the airport in the past.

    Also this year, the airport will begin the first phase of a total perimeter fence project to address security and safety concerns. The project was reprioritized to 2016 after working with the Colorado Division of Aeronautics on the airport’s capital improvement plan through 2023. May said phase one will include a fence on the north border and around the terminal area, which will help address concerns about Highway 14 and wildlife.