Extending a runway to 6,000 feet now allows Freeman Municipal Airport in Seymour to soar to new heights.
Officials expect the extra 500 feet of runway to draw more corporate aviation and military operations.
“We are differentiated from maybe other airports in the area that have the 5,500-foot runways that were built by the military back in the World War II days, so now that we’re different, now the pilots are seeing that, they are coming and saying, ‘OK, the extra length of runway is important to us,’ so they are starting to focus on here for operations,” Seymour Airport Authority President Brian Thompson recently told the Seymour Redevelopment Commission.
To support that uptick in activity at the airport, a new hangar is needed. That was the message from Thompson, Airport Manager Colin Smith and Administrative Assistant Victoria Taylor.
An eight-bay hangar would accommodate single- and twin-engine aircraft and large corporate jets in a safe, secure space and also help with the smaller aircraft currently on a waiting list for hangar space.
“These folks with these high-value aircraft would probably be a lot happier and probably come around more often if we have a place to put them inside,” Thompson said. “To those people, our airport is their front door to Seymour. It’s the first place they see, so if we have an airport that’s clean, that’s growing, it’s got energy, that, I think, will set us up as a city also for growth in that direction.”
The new hangar is expected to cost $1.4 million. Fortunately, the airport has been approved for a $730,000 Airport Infrastructure Grant through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and $250,000 in airport cash on hand will go toward the project.
That leaves $423,970, and the redevelopment commission approved providing that funding and also an interest-free bridge loan that will help until BIL funding is received for the next three years.
Smith said due to the overwhelming need to fund airport runways, taxiways, safety projects and fences, the Federal Aviation Administration has not been able to fund projects such as new terminals, hangars, fuel farms, etc.
The purpose of BIL funds is to enable airports to complete projects that typically don’t score well for the funding, he said.
“So $15 billion has been provided for airport infrastructure projects across the nation,” Smith said. “The BIL funds are available from fiscal year 2022 to 2026.”
Smith said the Runway 5-23 shift extension was completed in 2020, and he thanked the redevelopment commission for also supporting that project.
“The operations dropped in 2020 and early 2021 but have begun to increase again,” he said.
Taylor said the number of aircraft based at the airport has gone from 51 in 2021 to 71 now. That includes 45 single-engine aircraft, eight multi-engine aircraft, two helicopters and 16 gliders, and a third helicopter may be coming soon.
“We have a consistent wait list with our T-hangars, so the new hangar would be filled immediately based upon need,” she said. “We have enough on the wait list now that when those pilots vacate the current T-hangars, we open up a wait list on the old ones, as well.”
Quite a few CEOs and vice presidents of companies fly into the Seymour airport, and even a couple of collegiate sports teams have chosen it based upon the runway extension, Taylor said.
“The demand for T-hangars has increased greatly across the state,” she said. “There are several nearby airports that are actually beginning to construct new T-hangars, and this would make us competitive with them. … Seymour has a wait list, as do most nearby airports, and we want to capitalize on the extended runway and the growing interest in pilots.”
In the summer of 2021, with assistance from engineering consultant BF&S, the airport sent out a survey to tenants to see what they would like to have in a T-hangar and what they would be willing to pay to lease space in it.
In March 2022, the Indianapolis firm created a conceptual design of a new hangar building with six nested T-s and two jet pods. While the airport’s current hangars are open inside, the new hangar would provide private individual bays for each aircraft.
“These jet pods are kind of the new thing for us because we really don’t have storage for the small jets on the field right now, so it’s going to be one of those things that as it is built, we’re pretty confident that they’ll come,” Thompson said. “We’re taking some steps toward what the industry is asking for right now and really think this will set us up well for utilizing that.”
Taylor said in 2022, the airport brought in $56,427.28 in T-hangar income. Thompson expects the new hangar to bring in between $25,000 and $30,000 per year, and Taylor said that increased income from rental fees and fuel sales will help the airport remain self-sufficient and potentially result in more federal and state funds.
Thompson said many airports receive funding from tax dollars, but Freeman Municipal Airport receives $0. The annual operational budget is a little more than $900,000, and nearly 45% comes from industry lease, around 45% from agriculture lease and 10% from hangar rental and fuel sales.
“We’re pretty proud of that because we’re not a burden on taxpayers in this area. We’re just building on what we have,” Thompson said.
Now that the airport has funding in order for the new hangar, the next steps are to advertise for bids to build it, review them and award the project to a contractor. Barring supply chain issues, Smith said construction should take six to nine months.
Other upcoming projects at the airport include Runway 14-32 pavement rehabilitation to be completed in 2024, new lighting on that runway in 2026 and terminal apron reconstruction from 2027 to 2029. Smith said traditional federal funding sources will be used for those projects.
In the future, one or two more hangars could be added.
“The next step would be a corporate hangar, a large 100-by-100-foot hangar, which that may come sooner than later if this keeps taking off,” Thompson said.
Smith also said they have plans on Freeman Municipal Airport becoming a regional airport.