The first planes have landed at the newly constructed Gallatin County Regional Airport in Sparta, Ky.
Surveying the new runway Thursday, Mark Carter, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Aviation, pointed out a Cessna 172, a Bell helicopter, and a two-seat RV aircraft.
“We landed here this morning in the state aircraft, just to check out the airport and make sure the runways are clear and everything,” he told WVXU. “There were probably about 10 people standing on a berm watching us land.”
A county tourism official said six to seven aircraft landed before noon.
The idea of building an airport in one of Kentucky’s smallest counties — population about 8,700 (Sparta is about 235) — raised eyebrows in 2019 when funding was announced. Work began later that year.
Carter said Thursday the 5,000-foot runway was officially added to the FAA’s open airport list. A grand opening is set for June 28 at 10 a.m.
The airport — code 8GK — consists of just a concrete runway and some ramps at the moment. However, there are plans to add hangars, a terminal and other amenities. Planning is underway on the terminal building and Carter said he’s “pretty confident” it will be up and running by next summer.
The total cost of the project is a little over $44 million. That includes $26 million in federal funding, around $18 million in state funding, and some local dollars. Carter noted the state dollars are user-generated, coming from the commonwealth’s jet fuel tax.
Kentucky Department Of Aviation
Who’s flying in and out?
This is a general aviation airport, which, according to the FAA, means it’s for public use and doesn’t have regularly scheduled service, or does have scheduled service, but with less than 2,500 passenger boardings each year.
It was first proposed in 2004 and is meant largely to provide service for businesses along the I-71 corridor and Ohio River, like Nucor Steel. Carter expects it will see a lot of corporate and private jet traffic ferrying executives or delivering important pieces of manufacturing equipment.
These types of airports, Carter said, are also rich learning grounds.
“Small airports like this are where people learn to fly or learn to be mechanics, and those are two professions that are in high demand,” he pointed out. “Ultimately, this will be a great location for a flight school. It’s where young people get interested in flying or working on airplanes or working in airport professions, and that’s where they get started. I think that’s something this community will see a lot of long-term benefit from.”
In the future, Carter said, it could even be used for unmanned aircraft, like last-mile drone deliveries. He pointed to the expanding corridor from Cincinnati to Louisville as a market for growth in high-tech areas over the next 10 years.
Kentucky Department Of Aviation
What size planes can it handle?
At 5,000 feet, the runway is big enough to handle “just about any aircraft.” It’s not likely large Boeing jets, for example, or cargo or passenger planes will use the facility, but it is possible.
“In the event of an emergency … (a) 737 could operate in and out of here with no difficulty whatsoever,” Carter said.
What about Air Force One?
“Air Force One could land at Gallatin County if it wanted to,” Carter concluded.