Aviation Board Recommends Warsaw Airport Become City-County Airport Authority

Warsaw Airport Manager Nick King (L) talks to the city of Warsaw Board of Aviation Commissioners, including President Jay Rigdon (R), Tuesday about moving the city airport to a city-county airport authority. On the screen is a potential timeline for the transition. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union
By David Slone

WARSAW — The Warsaw airport could become a city-county airport by Jan. 1.

After a presentation on the change Tuesday by Airport Manager Nick King, the Warsaw Board of Aviation Commissioners (BOAC) unanimously recommended to the Warsaw Common Council that the council approve a resolution for the BOAC to become a city-county airport authority. If the city council approves the resolution, the county council then will need to approve the resolution.

Beginning his presentation, King said, “I’ve talked with a few of you, just to get some thoughts and ideas, and I think it’s time we start having this discussion and really put some pen and paper and some thought to what it would look like if we reached out to the county to see if they would want to join the city.”

He said the airport currently is a fantastic one for Warsaw, but funding has been an issue because “things are not getting any cheaper” and what the airport currently offers is full-service fueling capabilities and parking. It does not offer overnight hangars because it doesn’t have a hangar that it can put jets in.

The Warsaw Airport has always been tenant-focused because traditionally the airport has been a tenant-based airport, King said. “The customers flying in and out of our airport are based here, and while that has not completely gone away, we still have several customers that live and work here at our airport, we are seeing a very, very large increase in our transient population.”

King said he would like the airport to look at adding more services, including overnight aircraft storage, becoming more customer-focused versus tenant-focused, and adding concierge and catering services, possibly having rental cars available at the airport.

“This airport is an asset for all of our residents. We do not serve just the city of Warsaw. I think, currently, of our 64 tenants, only five or six are inside of the corporate city boundaries and we do service several customers in the county, and that includes several farmers … It’s not just the biomedicals that we serve,” King stated.

He said his vision is to take the airport to a city-county airport authority. The airport is currently a city BOAC, and moving to a city-county airport authority would allow it to do some local projects on top of what it’s currently doing with the federal and state capital improvement plans they put together every year.

“Air side specifically … pavement and the instrument-landing system, the weather system, all need work. Land side is all where you store the aircraft, so hangars, new terminal of the future, maintenance, equipment from snow plows to grounds equipment. And then the third part of that is going to be the general fund. I would love to get the community more involved at the airport, bring our air show back, increase our (nonprofit events),” King said.

The city-county airport authority would increase constituent representation, he told the BOAC. “I’m not saying you guys don’t do a great job as it is, but currently we are a city-focused airport and I think that serving the county, we need to have some county representation on the airport board as well,” King said, adding that it would increase the airport’s public awareness as well as spread out the funding base so the airport is not just taxing city residents.

King ran down a list of specific projects and their budgetary figures. To just replace the asphalt on runway 9-27 is about $7 million; the tunnel CR 100E could be around $15 million; reconstruction of taxilanes may be around $8.5 million; while replacing aging infrastructure and improving the airfield could total over $6.5 million.

“All of you have been to the airport. You know that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and asphalt is not getting any cheaper,” King told the board.

Another future project would be replacing the aging lighting systems to make the airport a lot safer.

He then talked about the airport’s current pavement condition index. While the north-south runway is in very good condition, he said the rest of the runways, taxiways and asphalts are in the 30s to 60s out of a 100 on the index. The airport is working with limited resources to replace some of the aging infrastructure while trying to get as much federal funding as possible.

On the runway extension, King said ultimately in the future they would like to extend the runway past CR 100E, “but, what most people don’t know is, when our weather is not great like it’s been the last few weeks,” the landing pavement is reduced from 6,000 feet to 4,100. “And when you’re landing a 65,000-70,000-pound jet at 135 mph, 4,000 feet is not a lot of room to get that stopped down to zero.”

Phase 1 of the runway extension would be to tunnel CR 100E, with Phase 2 being to recapture the displaced threshold so “we would gain back the pavement that is actually sitting out there.” The extension is “very much” in the future, he said.

The airport has a waiting list of 12-13 tenants who would like to move to Warsaw. If the airport had more hangars available, King said he was sure they could fill even more than that, so constructing more hangars would be high on the list.

He’d also like to rehabilitate Hangar Drive and Foreman Road, the roads that take the public to the hangars on the corporate side of the airport, as well as address security and maintenance concerns.

After talking about equipment maintenance and replacement, King listed off other services the airport could offer as a city-county airport authority and increase its revenue.

To implement the authority, King said Tuesday’s presentation was the kick-off. If the BOAC told him to, he’d get the ball rolling. Step two would be for King to engage the city attorney to come up with a resolution for the city and county to review and approve. The city council could approve it as early as their March 6 and 20 meetings, while the county council could see it as early as April 11 and May 11. If both entities pass it, an advertisement would be placed in the newspaper around May 12. King would talk to the FAA in June, and then the authority could be certified in July. The authority would be implemented Jan. 1, 2024.

Mayor Joe Thallemer told the BOAC, “There’s been quite a bit of preliminary discussion about this, amongst the city as well as county folks. This is not just something we’re going to kick off and say, ‘hey, what do you think?’ We’ve looked at the impacts of this, the tax impact and the obvious benefit to the county. So, there’s been preliminary discussion.”

He said it all happens as a result of both councils’ votes and no one can guarantee anything, but King has done a “lot of great work” looking into it. Thallemer said there certainly will be a tax impact and, at the end of the day, the taxpayers will make a decision through their representatives.

“The only real deadline we have is to try and get it done and certified by the end of the year, and we don’t want to certify it before July 1 because that creates a mid-year adjustment on the county tax bills that the county certainly doesn’t want anything to do with it, nor do we. That certainly gives us some time,” Thallemer said.

He later explained that the airport authority would basically split the governance of the airport between the city and the county.

Board members were asked for their opinion on moving to a city-county airport authority.

Dan Robinson said he felt for a number of years that this should happen. “Twenty years ago, quite frankly,” he said, adding that seeing the airport authority was one of his goals when he was asked to serve on the BOAC.

Gene Zale said he was “absolutely” in favor of the authority. “Twenty-five years ago, we tried to get the county to come in with us. We were really struggling then, but at least we had the corporates behind us and we were able to sustain this airport,” Zale stated.

BOAC Vice President John Yingling agreed “100%.” Board President Jay Rigdon made the motion to recommend to the city council that they approve the resolution. Robinson seconded it and it passed unanimously.