Henderson Gleaner, October 13, 2016
Henderson Eyes Airport Runway Expansion


Beth Smith , bethsmith@thegleaner.com 3:47 p.m. CDT October 13, 2016

The Henderson City County Airport will extend its runway over the next several years.

Those involved with the expansion have already invested years in the project, but said it's time well spent to help serve the community, local businesses and companies looking to possibly establish locations.  "The runway extension is so that our airport can serve the needs of the business jets currently operating such as (the) Gulfstream IV (or the) Gulf Stream V," said Allen Bennett, airport manager. "What we don't want to do is put ourselves in the position where our asset doesn't meet our needs. If you have an economic development group such as Kyndle, the people they bring in are traveling here typically on charter jets." 

"We don't want them to have to land in Evansville or Owensboro," Bennett continued. "We want them to set down right here where we have our industrial development. Their people are coming here to view our community, and we -- the airport -- are the front door. ... When their charter jet touches down at this airport they are looking around and seeing, is it clean? Is it mowed? Does it look good? Are things like they should be? At that point, we've formed their first impression. After that, it's up to Kyndle.  If we're not the front door for economic development, we aren't doing our job out here."

***** Website editor note (not in original Gleaner article):  At a ground-breaking ceremony at the Henderson Airport July 11, 2011, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear made the following comment:  "Seven out of every ten jobs that have been brought to the Henderson area in the past decade, were the result of decisions made by people who never drove to Henderson - they came by aircraft."  *****

The airport has already helped snag at least one business.  "The airport was one of the reasons Eastern Alloys located a facility here," said Donna Crooks, interim CEO of Kyndle. "They are able to bring in a corporate jet to visit with the plant manager.  "Many of our existing industries use the Henderson City County Airport services," she said. "The runway extension will further help Kyndle promote the multiple transportation options this region offers ..."

The project started four years ago, when the city requested FAA funds to extend the runway by 1,000 feet. The extra space will allow charter jets to take off in any weather. Currently, the FAA has approved a 500-foot extension. However, Bennett said, he is hoping to get FAA approval for the total 1,000 feet.  "We've bought the property for the runway extension and the runway safety area proper," he said. "We just signed a contract with an engineering firm to provide design services."
"The safety factor is also a big issue (for needing the runway extension). It's not that you can't operate a jet in and out of here. The FAA rules say that if you have passengers on board, you're supposed to take it up to full take-off speed, and if something goes wrong, shut it down and roll to the other end," Bennett said. "We didn't have that option (due to lack of runway). So for some of the planes coming in and out of here, their insurers were looking at us as though we are substandard, as far as we're on the fringe of being acceptable for them to operate here."

The expansion isn't a simple process. Years of study have gone into the project, which will require relocating Trigg Turner Road and nearby utility lines. Bennett said no homes will be affected . Officials also recently completed an environmental impact analysis.  Bennett estimated the tests, which included a pavement strength analysis among others, cost between $75,000 and $80,000. The entire project could cost up to $14 million -- 90 percent of which could be covered by federal grants.  "The state picks up differing amounts after the 90 percent from the FAA," Bennett said. "The Kentucky Department of Aviation funds between 5 and 7.5 percent. We're seeking from them 7.5 percent funding for the runway extension. That would mean Henderson County would only be responsible for 2.5 percent. But we have no guarantee that that will happen. We might be responsible for possibly up to 5 percent of the cost."

The airport also recently received a $700,000 grant to rebuild a segment of its apron, a space behind the terminal that serves as an operating area for aircraft.

Airport maintenance is a priority, he said, due to the 33,000 flight operations that come through the airport each year. A lot of that activity comes from Don Davis aviation, a charter and plane sales company.  "Don Davis has two active, certified flight instructors giving flight lessons which accounts for a lot of our activity," Bennett said. "So it's not that we have charter jets on top of each other, flying in and out all the time, but they are intermingled throughout the day."

"Air travel can be cost effective for companies," he said.  "If you have a group of 10 which you needed to have in Atlanta for a business meeting, if all those people drive down, you've got to pay for motels, meals the whole deal. But if you lease a charter jet and they all meet here, and you set your bird down in Atlanta in an hour and 15 minutes," he said. "You left here this morning and you're in Atlanta by 9 a.m. for a meeting. You meet until 3 or 4 p.m. You load them all back on the plane, and they're home for supper. There's economics involved in that. You can get there pretty quickly with a charter jet."

Jon Becker, director of operations for Don Davis Aviation, said the runway extension is a welcome addition that will be beneficial both from an operations standpoint, as well as a financial one.  "This will allow us to operate in and out (of the airport) even when the weather isn't optimal," he said. "There are two sets of FAA rules: one for non commercial operations and one for commercial operations or those with passengers. If we wanted to fly someone in, a commercial flight with passengers, we can't when it's wet or snowy. We'd have to go to Evansville or Owensboro.  From the fixed base operator side, it will allow larger planes to fly in to see the community. I don't think the residents understand the economic benefit the people who fly in bring to the community," Becker concluded.