(An extended version of following article appeared in the Jan/Feb. 2017 issue of NBAA’s Member publication, Business Aviation Insider. To read the complete article and more, download the BAI app at www.nbaa.org/news/insider/.)
It stands to reason that flight departments that have a cooperative relationship with the airports at which they are based, or fly into frequently, benefit from the relationship, as do the airports and surrounding communities themselves.
“Flight departments that step up to help provide financial or other assistance to upgrade infrastructure and enhance safety at their airport are not the only ones benefitting,” said Alex Gertsen, NBAA’s director of airports and ground infrastructure. “The surrounding community and the airport operator also reap advantages, including improved safety and accessibility, increased operations, more based businesses, and potential for additional revenue.”
A case in point is Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport (PUW), located in eastern Washington near the Idaho border. The airport, which opened in 1940, is not easy to spot among the rolling hills of the Palouse region, and the runway length of 6,700 feet and width of 100 feet is not adequate for some aircraft operators that would otherwise like to access PUW, including the airlines.
“Everything about the airport has been designed for older aircraft,” said airport executive director Tony Bean, noting that the airfield has been operating under an FAA waiver for some time. “We lose a lot of charter business because of the airport’s limitations.”
Enter Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), a 4,500-employee-owned company with its headquarters in Pullman. “We couldn’t be in the Pullman-Moscow region without business aviation,” said company founder Dr. Ed Schweitzer. “When we close the airplane door we are less than four hours from anywhere we need to go, including Mexico City, Dulles International Airport – wherever.”
Four SEL company aircraft based at PUW fly hundreds of employees yearly to multiple locations; SEL employees also fly on 500 commercial flights per year from the airport. But because of the airport’s limitations, especially during the winter months, SEL stepped up immediately when plans were announced to upgrade the airport, including extending the runway by 600 feet, widening the runway and taxiways, and improving lighting.
Although federal grants are funding more than 90 percent of the project, local funding had to be raised as well. “Because business aviation is so important to PUW, my wife and I put $1 million into the project, and SEL matched with an additional $1 million,” said Schweitzer. “This is our community. As a major user of the airport, we are excited to be a part of the project.”
The flight department of The Wonderful Company also understands that being a good neighbor to airports and their surrounding communities means following the rules. Although based at Bakersfield Airport (BFL), Wonderful aircraft regularly fly into Southern California airports such as Van Nuys (VNY), Burbank (BUR) and Santa Monica (SMO).
With the company being headquartered in Los Angeles and less than five miles from embattled SMO, Wonderful aircraft fly into that airport several times daily to pick up employees. ”
It is our job as an operator to understand what the issues are wherever we fly and to adhere to any pertinent rules, including noise abatement and others,” said Don Hitch, vice president of flight operations at Wonderful. “We are considered a good neighbor because we respect the airports we utilize.”