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Iowa City Municipal Airport flies strong

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | MARCH 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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Facing northwest and staring down 3,900 feet of runway, Tim Busch increased throttle, and the white Cessna 172 pulled forward. The engine grew louder, and the plane started to pull left into the wind.

Busch, the president of Iowa Flight Training, says the world needs more pilots.

“Right now today, seven out of 10 people drive a car, but only one in 400 flies,” he said. “And I’d like to be the one who fixes that, or at least helps.”

But he faces a challenge.

The state of Iowa has seen a decrease in flight operations — each time a plane takes off or lands — of more than 50,000 since 2005. National operations have dropped by more than 10 million in the past five years, according to the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association.

This is due in large part to the economic recession and fuel prices, said the association’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Isham Cory.

The Iowa City Municipal Airport, 1801 S. Riverside Drive, has seen some effects of the bad economy, said Mike Tharp, Iowa City’s airport operations specialist. But so far, the those effects have been minimal, he said.



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While the number of flights has decreased nationwide, the local airport has managed to remain a vital transportation hub for the area, largely because of its proximity to the University of Iowa, a five-minute drive away, and its many other uses, Tharp said.

A large aspect in the airport’s success is the UI Hospitals and Clinics, which use the local landing strip for patient transfer and organ-donor transport.

Guest speakers and other visitors to the university also use the facilities.

Tharp said that as the university continues to grow, so does its national interest, which brings more traffic to the airport.

Iowa State University also provides business for Ames’ airport, including athletics-related travel, said Christa Holden, the operations manager for Hap’s Air Service, which manages the airport.

The Iowa City airport, being a general-aviation airport, is also used for personal and business flights, agricultural sprayers, and both helicopter and aircraft flight-training schools.

The number of registered aircraft in Iowa has increased by more than 150 since 2006 to a total of 4,100 in the state. Around 140 of those planes are in Johnson County, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

High numbers of flights acts as a “double edged sword,” Tharp said. Increased aircraft means a growing number of necessary facilities.

“It’s put a strain on our capacity,” he said. “We’re at capacity with our storage capabilities, and we have a waiting list that’s about 20 to 25 people deep.”

The airport has six T hangers that can house 59 aircraft and a large corporate-style building that has office space and can hold four additional planes.

The airport plans to continue expanding with hanger and storage construction that would add revenue to the airport by increasing hanger rental and fuel sales, Tharp said.

Operating on a budget of around $400,000, the airport has around an $11 million economic impact on the area by creating jobs and providing businesses with aviation access, according to the state Department of Transportation’s Iowa Economic Impact of Aviation report.

“It’s an economic engine,” Tharp said.

Back on the tarmac, Busch plans to keep it simple. All those planes will need pilots.

“Bringing new people in, that’s where it all starts,” Busch said, leaning on the Cessna 172 he landed just minutes earlier.


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