Just a few years back, Smith Field, the general aviation reliever airport for Fort Wayne, Ind., was in a fight for its life. In fact, in 2003 the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority announced its decision to close the GA field. But local pilots and AOPA resolved not to let that happen—and they didn’t.
Today, the field is thriving. It boasts a new AWOS and self-serve fuel pumps, has a steadily increasing number of operations, and is home to an A&P training school. The turnaround has been remarkable, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment and dedication of the airport’s users and supporters.
“This is a great example of what pilots can do when they work together on behalf of airports,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. “It took years of hard work first to save the airport and then to ensure its future. Smith Field should be a model and inspiration for pilots at threatened airports everywhere.”
AOPA became involved with the airport in 2002, at a time when residential encroachment and declining operations left county aviation officials wondering if they could find better uses for the land. AOPA and local pilots educated county officials about the current and potential value of the airport, urged improvements through federal Airport Improvement Program grants, and presented and evaluated numerous alternatives to closing the field. While those efforts persuaded the county to delay making a decision on closing the airport, they weren’t enough to turn the tide.
By the following year, county officials had voted to close the airport, saying operations would cease in July 2003. Still, local pilots and AOPA persisted in their efforts to save the field. A local pilots group, SAFE (Smith Airfield ForEver) continued to lobby officials to keep the airport open, hosting airport events and even a fundraising dinner keynoted by AOPA’s president, to draw attention to the value of the field and educate the larger community about its economic benefits. AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer was heavily involved and AOPA staff spent time with area news media, making the case for the historic airport, which was home to the last operational airways beacon.
Finally, in March 2003, county commissioners voted 4-1 to keep the field open. Now it would be up to the same pilots who saved the field to ensure its future. And once again, they got to work, building the airport’s image within the community. In April 2003, commissioners again voted on the airport’s future, this time agreeing that it would remain open “indefinitely.”
Since then, the airport has grown in importance and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority has partnered with airport businesses and users to promote its continued success. Airport officials report that operations increased 28 percent in 2008 over the previous year. The airport authority also has assumed responsibility for operating the field’s FBO, installed a self-serve fuel kiosk, and in 2008 accepted federal money to install a new AWOS, money that came with grant obligations to keep the airport operating for at least 20 years.