For the past two years, the City of Great Bend has been preparing to rebuild the primary runway at the Great Bend Municipal Airport. That project will happen in 2019. Already, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has promised to pay 90 percent of the cost, but only for the first 5,550 feet. With an additional 2,351 feet remaining, Great Bend could lose its status as a mid-America fuel stop if funding for the final stretch isn’t found. Earlier this month, Great Bend Municipal Airport Manager Martin Miller traveled to Topeka to present a grant proposal to a the Kansas Department of Transportation. If his efforts are successful, the city may only need to come up with an additional $55,010 to get the work done.
Centerline Aviation, LLC, is the fixed base operator (FBO) for Great Bend. An FBO bills aircraft services including fueling, hangaring, parking, maintenance, charter and instruction -- basically making the airport viable. By keeping the cost of fuel competitive, transient aircraft operators have been choosing to stop at Great Bend to refuel, Miller said. They account for more than 70 percent of the fuel sold.
It used to cost the city $500 a month to keep an FBO here, Miller said. Now, FBO rent and fuel fees benefit the city by $2,200 a month.
“We’re talking about economics here-- Great Bend is creating a revenue here, and so is the state,” Miller said. “If the runway is shortened, that goes away.”
Physics is the reason. Aircraft loaded with fuel and passengers require a longer runway in order to build up the speed needed for lift. In addition, on hot days, air density is lower, so even lighter aircraft need longer rolls to get off the ground. If the remainder of the runway is not maintained, Great Bend will lose business.
“There will be no one coming in the summer especially,” Miller said. “They won’t be able to get much fuel.”
A fully fueled King Air 350, fully fueled and at full passenger capacity needs a 6,900 foot roll on an average day, Miller said. Aircrafts of that size are commonly seen at GBMA.
Transient aircraft aren’t the only ones benefitting from Great Bend’s airport. Local businesses, including Morris Multimedia Inc., publisher of The Great Bend Tribune, Buckle Inc., and Watco Companies, LLC, regularly utilize the airport. Doctors and dentists use it to commute to offices in western Kansas for their practices. Private jets are hangared there. Centerline Aviation has also received a 135 certificate and hopes to have a large jet or turboprop in their fleet in the next couple of years.
Since Great Bend no longer has a commercial airline service, having charter service here is important, Miller said. An aircraft like that, however, requires more than 5,500 feet under normal conditions.
Other municipal airports in western Kansas are around the 5,500-foot length the FAA has determined to be adequate for the average traffic in western Kansas. Generally, they have little business, Miller said. Hays and Garden City aren’t as long as Great Bend, but have some competitive value.
Great Bend was originally an 8,000-foot air strip for the military, dating back to World War II. This meant the city simply needed to maintain what was already in place to position itself as it has. Modern enhancements in recent years required the airport to subtract nearly 150 feet at the end of the runway, but didn’t affect its competitive value. But, as letters from supporters of Miller’s efforts indicate, if the runway is shortened, the chances of ever going back to the size it is now are nill.
KDOT has helped Great Bend out twice before in the past 15 years. In 2003, it paid half the cost of an asphalt overlay on the section the FAA would not touch. Then, in 2007 when new taxiways were put in, KDOT participated with a 50/50 match on the remainder. Now, Miller said, the new grant program is providing a 90/10 split.
“We have a real opportunity to save some money on this portion,” Miller said.
Today, Friday, Sept. 29, is when proposals are due. KDOT aviation has a $5 million grant budget each year. They receive at least 37 requests each year from Kansas airports.
“My goal is to get us up in the winning level.”