Congresswoman visits Jackson County

Ninth District Congresswoman Erin Houchin is on an 18-county tour of the southeast Indiana area she represents in the nation’s capital.

On Friday, she made three stops in Jackson County.

What happened during the second one will highly likely be near or at the top of her list of memorable moments.

After meeting with Freeman Municipal Airport Manager Colin Smith, Administrative Assistant Victoria Taylor and Seymour Airport Authority President Brian Thompson and member Scott Davis, Houchin, a Republican from Salem, boarded a 71-year-old Cessna airplane as Thompson took her on a brief overhead view of the city.

Afterwards, she said she had been in a Cessna before, but not one that old.

“He took me on a little trip over Seymour,” she said. “That was really great to see all of the industries and the development and the new bypass, just very exciting. I appreciate it very much, and it gives me a good perspective on the usefulness of airports like these.”

While talking about agriculture during the flight, Thompson told Houchin he can use an airplane to view his farm property to see where the issues might be.

“So there’s a lot of function here that is needed. That’s why we’ve got to maintain these (airports),” Houchin said.

Knowing Houchin was coming to the airport, Smith said he and Thompson agreed as long as she gave consent and they had the ability to take her up in a plane, they would make it happen.

“By all means,” Smith said. “We’re the airport. We’re here. It’s our job to increase the output of the aviation industry, and so we’re trying to reach out into the community that way. We’re very honored that we were able to take her up and let her enjoy the tour of Seymour in the airplane up in the air cruising. … Having the ability to stand out in a certain form in a positive manner is what we’re all about.”

Houchin’s other stops were Family Drug in Brownstown and Cummins Seymour Engine Plant in Seymour. She was accompanied by Amanda Lowery, district director of Houchin’s Jeffersonville office and the Jackson County Republican Party chairwoman, and Heidi Reutebuch, communications director for Houchin.

In February, Houchin was in Jackson County visiting Guardian Bikes, FosTecH and Seymour Fire Station 2 in Seymour and Brownstown Electric Supply Co. Inc. in Brownstown.

While at the airport Friday afternoon, before taking flight, Thompson gave Houchin a brief history of the airport and discussed how it operates on revenue generated from industries and agriculture and no taxes are collected.

Smith shared a booklet with information about airport activity, economic output and the capital improvement plan for 2024 to 2029.

Looking at the plan, Houchin asked about the must-haves. Thompson said rehabilitating Runway 14-32 and updating lighting are two priorities.

He also noted the city supported building a new T-hangar with two jet pods. With the airport having nearly 20 aircraft on a waiting list for hangar space, the new building will alleviate that problem.

“We’re just really excited about opportunities out here. There’s growth out here,” Thompson said, noting the extension of a runway accommodates more corporate aircraft and has resulted in the military using the airport. “We’re seeing more and more corporate aircraft coming in.”

Katie England, the airport’s representative with Butler, Fairman & Seufert Inc. engineering firm in Indianapolis, also attended Friday’s meeting and said the new hangar addresses a community need, too.

“More hangar space generally means more traffic, which means increased fuel sales, and one of the grand assurances that airports have to abide by is to be as self-sustaining and sufficient as possible, which is something Seymour is really proud of being an airport authority and not actually getting any tax revenue,” she said.

The Federal Aviation Administration looks at the number of operations when determining allocations of funding, England said.

“The more hangar space you have and the more that you can rent out, the higher operations are going to get, more fuel sales, so it’s really just a nice cycle, and it all comes back to the local community,” she said. “There’s also a nationwide shortage of hangar space at general aviation airports.”

Houchin asked if the airport has applied for federal grants. England said a current project is designing the runway rehabilitation, as construction has been delayed for two years. The airport also wants to convert the second level of the terminal building to a storage area and pilots lounge.

Houchin said she would provide a letter of support for any grant application submitted by the airport.

Smith said it was great to have Houchin visit the airport and provide support for its work.

“Many people think it’s extremely important that airports are tied closely to a community that it surrounds, and when you get into those types of surroundings in the community, it’s really important that the upper levels, the decision-makers are able to realize how much involves the operations of an airport of the surrounding areas,” he said.

“We’re very thankful that she was able to visit,” he said, “because not only does that get our story out there, but it can also increase the amount of future possibilities because there’s so much potential there, especially for Freeman Municipal Airport and the city of Seymour.”