AOPA Vice President of Local Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn (left) and ASN Volunteer Terry Propst (right).
A group of Missouri pilots who banded together to keep their local airport alive are an inspiration to AOPA members nationwide who want to protect their airports, said AOPA Vice President of Local Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn.
Dunn stopped in Festus, Mo., last week to meet with the pilots, including the AOPA ASN volunteer, who had bought the Festus Memorial Airport to save it from closure. He said the purchase of the airport testifies to the power of pilots to preserve general aviation facilities in the face of economic pressure.
“Local pilots, when they set their mind on something, can make a tremendous difference in the future viability of their airport,” he said.
The pilots first took action years ago when the city began considering the sale of Festus Memorial, the only public-use airport in Missouri’s Jefferson County. They organized a nonprofit organization, Citizens for Airport Economic Expansion (CAEE), and began operating the airport in 2004 at a token cost of $1 per year. The move removed the cost to the city for running the airport and temporarily relieved pressure on officials to sell the land for redevelopment.
When discussions of selling the airport resumed, CAEE took action again. With community support, the organization formed an investment group to purchase the airport. The city agreed to sell Festus Memorial to the group in November 2008. They will close the sale April 16.
The largest financial commitment came from a nonpilot and nonflier, a local businessman who sees the value of the airport to the city’s future. He has arranged financing for over half the sale price.
“He sees that airports like this are critical to the economic development of an area,” Dunn said.
The pilots, among them AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Terry Propst, plan to extend the runway, develop the east side of the airport for additional hangars, and build an industrial park on adjacent land. The improvements are intended to add to the airport’s value to the community.