Archive for Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ready for takeoff: Business picking up at airport

Visitors, from left, Roy Jackson, Joel Murphy and Dax Gaskill walk to the terminal after flying their Cessna plane two hours from Hugoton to catch a Kansas University men’s basketball game last week. Lawrence Municipal Airport north of the Kansas River has been providing air transport services for years.

Visitors, from left, Roy Jackson, Joel Murphy and Dax Gaskill walk to the terminal after flying their Cessna plane two hours from Hugoton to catch a Kansas University men’s basketball game last week. Lawrence Municipal Airport north of the Kansas River has been providing air transport services for years.

December 5, 2010


It was all very big-city.

A $45 million Citation business jet sits on the apron of Lawrence Municipal Airport. It dwarves the 10 other planes — both in size and envy — parked at the airport awaiting their passengers to return from the big game between Kansas University and UCLA.

In the darkness to the north, a blinking red light of an incoming plane approaches. The hum of its turbo props grows louder, and a line of media members from Lawrence and Kansas City begin jockeying for position outside the terminal’s entrance.

The plane was from Tulsa, and the rumor of the day was that the athletic director of the University of Tulsa was on that plane, set to perhaps become the next A.D. at Kansas University.

Fuel trucks wait on the tarmac at the Lawrence Municipal Airport. The airport just north of downtown has been providing air transport services for years.

Fuel trucks wait on the tarmac at the Lawrence Municipal Airport. The airport just north of downtown has been providing air transport services for years.

An airport employee with the funny-looking flashlights directs the plane into its parking spot on the apron. The doors open and a couple emerge. The TV lights come on. Cameras flash. Reporters drift toward the couple’s path. By the time they get to the door, the doubt had already begun to emerge.

Are you going to be the next athletic director at Kansas University?

No. Not that he knew of. They were Linda and Doug Farquharson. KU basketball fans from the Tulsa area who decided to fly up for the game.

That is about as big-city as it gets at the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

• • •

Inside the terminal — call it Terminal A if you would like, but there is no B or C — a living-room-style Christmas tree sits in the lobby. Not too far away, an old control panel from a small plane is on the floor for the children, or those who wish they still were.

A single flat-screen TV is off to the side, but it is not on. Instead, music from a dorm-room-like stereo system plays.

And, no, there are no TSA agents doing pat downs anywhere in the facility. But this holiday season, as big-city airports take their knocks, there are plenty of TSA jokes from the passengers departing their private charters. One whips out a smart phone and pulls up a doctored photo of a liberal Congressman with a rubber glove on his hand ready to, let’s say, greet a line of passengers.

Earlier in the day, before the Allen Fieldhouse Air Force landed, there actually was a sign on the airport counter directing people who needed help to go to the hangar next door.

In the hangar you can find Lloyd Hetrick, owner of Hetrick Air Services and the man who has been running most day-to-day operations at the airport since the early 1980s. Hetrick — who grew up at Topeka’s Philip Billard Municipal Airport watching his father run that facility — has his offices in the front of the building. In the back is a shop. It currently is full with six planes, one flown in from as far away as Arkansas, to have work done.

During the day, there are usually four employees at the airport — Hetrick, an office manager, a mechanic, and a line man who hooks and tows airplanes from one spot to the other and does various jobs on site. There are no air-traffic controllers or anything like that. Just an office radio that occasionally squelches with the voice of a pilot who is about to land.

The airport is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., although it does close at 6 p.m. on a couple of holidays. Those are the terms of the contract Hetrick has with the city of Lawrence, which owns the airport grounds and most of the buildings. Hetrick pays a lease rate to the city in exchange for being able to sell services at the airport. Those include repair services, charter flights ($2.50 a mile for a plane of up to four people), and flight instruction. But the big one is airplane and jet fuel that sells for about $5 a gallon, including a special 5-cent flowage fee that goes directly to the city. Some days it is not a bad business. Once a jet fueled up with 2,500 gallons. More often it is about 700 to 800 gallons.

Business, though, hasn’t been great lately. The economic downturn has taken a toll. Fuel sales in 2009 were off by about 35 percent, Hetrick estimates. Hetrick isn’t convinced that it was necessarily because private aircraft owners had run out of money.

“What hurt us as much as anything were those GM and other car executives flying their multi-million dollar jets into Washington, D.C., asking for a bailout,” Hetrick said. “It was just a real bad image, and lots of business types were nervous about being seen in private jets.”

But business has begun to pick up again, and Hetrick believes security hassles at major airports may cause more people to consider flying private. The city currently is preparing a new master plan for the airport, and Hetrick would like the city to consider lengthening the main runway to accommodate what he thinks will be greater jet traffic in the future.

He also watches with a little bit of unease as he expects some new federal security regulations to filter down to small airports. But he hopes not too many.

“We’re not going to get into that foreplay stuff,” he says.

• • •

A small plane just south Lawrence Municipal Airport prepares to turn and make its approach to land. The flag is at the front entrance of the airport terminal.

A small plane just south Lawrence Municipal Airport prepares to turn and make its approach to land. The flag is at the front entrance of the airport terminal.

Although lacking all the trappings of a big-city airport, Lawrence Municipal does attract big-city names and money. On this day, the $45 million Citation created a buzz. It was flying in from Los Angeles. As soon as it landed, a black limo pulled up to its side door and whisked away its eight passengers.

But it didn’t whisk them far. Just to the front door of the terminal, where several got out to use the most important facility in any airport: the restroom. Seven UCLA fans and one KU alumnus from 1990.

The KU alumnus milled about in the lobby and enthusiastically answered “absolutely,” when asked if this was the best way to fly. It was unclear whether he had chartered the plane, but it was clear that he had chartered the bar on it.

He gave his last name. I had trouble spelling it, although he pointed out it was on a building at KU.

There are days that Hetrick wishes he would bring a camera to work. The airport has hosted several celebrities. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, along with Hillary Clinton, have flown into the airport. Actor Don Johnson once flew in. Hetrick remembers because Johnson gave his daughter a peck on the cheek. NFL great Terry Bradshaw flew in to look at some horses. After KU’s 1988 national championship, coach Larry Brown met with the owner of the San Antonio Spurs in the airport’s pilots lounge. A few days later, Larry was gone.

All that celebrity stuff is fun, but Hetrick said it really doesn’t get at the meat of the facility. Hetrick said the airport is an important cog in the area’s commerce. Certainly KU — which out of the 59 aircraft based at the airport has the only jet — is the major traffic generator. But Hetrick said executives from many national companies — he listed Kroger, Hy-vee, Walmart, Target and a few others — fly directly into the facility to check on their Lawrence operations.

“I know there are people who think it is just rich guys playing with their toys, but really there is a lot of business that is done out here,” Hetrick said.

Dean Beliera — a pilot who had just used one of the airport’s two courtesy cars to grab a bite to eat in Lawrence while waiting for his Hays-bound passengers to arrive — sees a lot of these small airports. He said the public probably underestimates their importance.

“You know what, a lot of money and power comes through an airport like this,” Beliera said.

• • •

But on this day, the new athletic director for Kansas University does not come through the doors.

Or at least we don’t think so.

“I don’t know, maybe I should apply,” Doug Farquharson says after having the bright lights pointed at him.

But there is a problem with that plan: getting to the university. As his wife, Linda, chats with her newfound friends, Doug becomes more agitated as he looks at his watch.

“I’ll tell you how important we are,” he says. “We’re so important our son is already 10 minutes late to pick us up.”

Ah. An airport delay — Lawrence style.


Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

Soooo what this article is about is to butter up taxpayers to fork over MORE of our local big government tax dollars.

A grant was denied recently for further expansion. This tells me the plan presented did not warrant the money that would have been provided. So why should local taxpayers be forced to cough up the dough?

Where does city hall get the idea that voters want our tax dollars spent this way? Put the matter before the voters!

The next question is asking why were local taxpayers forced to vote on new sales taxes for road repair,The T and the library rehab project? We are consistently being the told the city could not afford those basic projects yet when the airport wants millions for new water and sewer lines plus airport expansion taxpayers do not get to vote on this spending?

Put the matter before the voters!

Where does the money magically come from? I am not impressed that a few people fly into our small town airport to watch basketball games. That is no indication our small town airport for this small town needs expanding.

Put the matter before the voters!

Al Deathe 7 years, 4 months ago

They have been putting the votes to the voters and they keep voting for them! Lawrence voters refuse to say no! Lawrence residents are going to bankrupt this city just so they don't have to say NO!

Richard Heckler 7 years, 4 months ago

Tax Payers Over Extended!

Taxpayers should be allowed to vote for or against all new capital improvement projects and rate increases. Nothing moves forward without voter approval.

New capital improvement projects are in fact increasing the tax bills. There is no way to get a budget under control when there is constant expansion of the infrastructure.

Adding miles and miles of new water and sewer lines is no way to rein the budget. .

No one has a clue when the economy will bounce back so why are commissioners approving new tax increases by way of new capital improvements? Who will be paying for these increases?

"National surveys (through American Farmland Trust) show that county costs in services required by farmland and open space generally is only 35 to 60¢ for every $1.00 in revenues they generate, producing a net gain for counties. "

"In contrast, residential use in counties costs $1.11 to $1.60 in services for every $1.00 generated."

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years, 4 months ago

Ironic that you advocate against this when you have consistently advocated for virtually every tax increase in the last few years.

CreatureComforts 7 years, 4 months ago

Merrill isn't smart enough to ever know how to fly a plane, so if it doesn't benefit him, he doesn't care.

Flap Doodle 7 years, 4 months ago

Oh, do let us bulldoze east Lawrence and put in a grass landing field. It'll be like totally green and stuff.

gl0ck0wn3r 7 years, 4 months ago

Says the guy with an Irish username. Racist much?

VTHawk 7 years, 4 months ago

That Citation X is a beautiful airplane (a bit large for Lawrence, as well).

The idea that individuals can own and operate an airplane is one of the truly amazing freedoms of the US of A. Being able to fly from small towns across the state/region to watch KU events can't really be overstated, and we should encourage such private pilots. I regret that I don't yet have a license ($), but catering to folks who fly in for games and events really does support the local economy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

It's true net effect is to take money out of the local economy to satisfy the need for luxury and convenience of a very small number of people.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

"Hetrick said the airport is an important cog in the area’s commerce. Certainly KU — which out of the 59 aircraft based at the airport has the only jet — is the major traffic generator. But Hetrick said executives from many national companies — he listed Kroger, Hy-vee, Walmart, Target and a few others — fly directly into the facility to check on their Lawrence operations."

That's all well and good, but what this particular reader would really like to know is what part of the true costs of building, maintaining and operating this airport are these corporate/luxury users picking up? How much corporate welfare is required to keep these jets in the air, and landing at boutique airports, just to save corporate bigwigs from having to rub elbows with the hoipolloi?

Can you give us any of those details Chad and JW?

William McCauley 7 years, 4 months ago

Try doing a little research on the City of Lawrence website and and you'll see the cost to date is 11.5 million dollars of federal monies, this money is congressional money from the "Airport Improvement Program" or AIP funding, it's your federal tax dollars, not local. Currently the City of Lawrence is seeking an additional 13.5 million in AIP funding, this is why they are updating the master plan. However some players are betting their ongoing violations of the grant funding contracts won't be noticed by the FAA, so their willing to risk pay back of the 11.5 million and losing the 13.5 million currently being requested in order to keep out approved aeronautical activity's that Lloyd and the LAAB members see as unfit users... Chad won't cover that side of the "good old boy" network story. Wouldn't want to upset those who enjoy the country club airport being ran by a group of discriminatory locals, Mr. Hetrick and airport advisory board members, one of whom is the chamber of commerce head honcho, Mr.Kerns.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

"it's your federal tax dollars, not local. "

If you multiply all those federal dollars times the hundreds of airports around the country, you're already well into hundreds of $billions over the last few decades-- money that came out of local economies at one point or another, and it's money that did very little to benefit the vast majority in those local economies.

William McCauley 7 years, 4 months ago

The AIP funding is from a tax for every airline ticket someone buy's, if you fly an airline you pay the tax, along with other airspace users fees & taxes. These taxes are then put into a trust fund... Again AIP funding it all federal not local tax monies, unless you count the water lines and sewer, but some of that may have been ARRA funds?

Regardless in our community there are those who wish to keep out those they see as unfit to use their public funded, little private country club airport, and they lie and misrepresent facts as well as federal aviation laws to get their way and all the while expect you and me to pay for it to the tune of 11.5 million dollars with an additional request for another 13.5 million this year.

(quote) In 1970, a more comprehensive program was established with the passage of the Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970. This Act provided grants for airport planning under the Planning Grant Program (PGP) and for airport development under the Airport Development Aid Program (ADAP). These programs were funded from a newly established Airport and Airway Trust Fund, into which were deposited revenues from several aviation-user taxes on such items as airline fares, air freight, and aviation fuel. The authority to issue grants under these two programs expired on September 30, 1981. During this 11-year period, 8,809 grants totaling $4.5 billion were approved.

The current program, known as the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), was established by the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 (Public Law 97-248). Since then, the AIP has been amended several times, most recently with the passage of the Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (Vision 100). Funds obligated for the AIP are drawn from the Airport and Airway Trust fund which is supported by user fees, fuel taxes, and other similar revenue sources.(quote)

some_random_person 7 years, 4 months ago

So you're suggesting we don't fund airport projects nation-wide? Is that it? Well I guess we shouldn't fund the Interstate system, rail system, or the like? Aviation is a part of our infrastructure, like it or not. It's not just rich guys or corporate fat cats, it's called commerce....The public has never and will never understand the importance of airport access and aviation in general, they are ignorant. Yet, they are the first to come to place like this and piss and moan about aviation improvement projects.

BTW, the runway extension project and similar improvements are likely 95/5 money. Meaning, 5% comes from the City, 95% comes from the FAA. If you have the chance to fund one of these 95/5 projects, you do it, period....

Scott Morgan 7 years, 4 months ago

Very nicely written Chad. Big time article for a small city.

walter_sobchak 7 years, 4 months ago

Business aviation contributes $150 billion to U.S. economy and employs more than 1.2 million people. Let's get real here, this is something to be supported.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

But how much does it cost in taxpayer subsidies? What actual value is gained by these subsidies? Merely shuffling money around doesn't necessarily mean any but a few actually get anything out of it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

Subsidizing these airports so that millionaires can attend BB games is not "spreading the wealth."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

No envy. I just think that if they really need to jet in here for a BB game, they can pay what it truly costs.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

That explains the flatulence you regularly display around here.

Wayne Propst 7 years, 4 months ago

courtesy ....... 25+ yrs. not one comercial plane has landed to use the "terminal".....the 5 cent tax on fuel...... if they sell 1,000,000(one million) gal. we the tax payers get $50,000.......and these are the people who are against the rest of us receiving health care....

William McCauley 7 years, 4 months ago

Courtesy cars are common on small airports and are to be for everyone to use, so if you fly in to town in your puddle jumper (small plane) or even a lear jet, you can go to town and get a meal or do your local business. It has little to do with commercial planes, besides as we see all the rich private jet owners/users hire limos, wouldn't dare use a courtesy car that would be to low class.

aa469285 7 years, 4 months ago

Moving past your obvious bias towards passenger rail (and bias against the majority of Americans), outside of major metropolitan areas (pop over 5 MM), passenger rail would be something subsidized by all and enjoyed by a few. Hence why Amtrak requires constant subsidy to stay running. Even in a city like St. Louis, their passenger rail is primarily used for recreation, not business commuting.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

"Hence why Amtrak requires constant subsidy to stay running."

Every transportation system we have requires substantial subsidies to remain operational-- and both air and highway travel get orders of magnitude more than rail.

some_random_person 7 years, 4 months ago

Again, the public will never understand aviation. Always, the public's first thought of aviation runs to this misconception of "rich pilots, corporate fat cats, etc.." They just simply don't understand that airports are infrastructure and commerce. What about the crop-dusters, the EMS operators, the utility service companies, the mechanics, the instructors, the aerial photographers, etc... Hardly "rich corporate fat cats." The public would absolutely be outraged if there was no "Lifestar choppers" to evacuate critically injured persons from a car accident. Just think about that the next time you see a bad accident. Face it, aviation is a part of society as much as the road system, and it needs funding to stay operational....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

There is some truth in what you say, but the fact is that many of the expenditures on general aviation are indeed in support primarily of corporate fat cats.

And what seems to be your prime example, helicopter ambulances, don't really require much at all in the way of airport services.

Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 4 months ago


5-cent "flowage fee" on the sale of fuel at the airport. We could raise it to 10 cents, but LWC already has one of the highest fuel prices in 100 mi.

Aircraft based in KS also pay personal property tax. On a $10M plane, a 3% tax is $300K a year. Unfortunately, this just goes into the state and county's general funds and is not earmarked for aviation infrastructure.

There is 21.9 cent per gal. tax on jet fuel assessed by the federal government. Private aircraft users have agreed to allow it to be raised by 10 cents to help pay for updates to the National AIrspace System. On a business jet burning 400 gallons per hour, it's already nearly $100 contributed to the Aviation Trust Fund for each hour of flight. For a little 4-seat Cessna, it's more like $1.60 per hour. The Congress has traditionally "borrowed" all of the funds in the Trust Fund to spend on other stuff and make the deficit look smaller.

I'm not sure if KS also levies a per-gallon tax, but many states do.

A portion of airline ticket taxes go to "reliever" airports like this one so that private aircraft don't have to use airline airports like KCI. KCI would be 5 times busier if all the general aviation aircraft that currently use airports within 50 mi. of KCI had to use KCI. Hello delays!

Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 4 months ago

I learned to fly at the Lawrence airport the summer after High School. I have since flown cargo, and for the airlines, and I have taught dozens of others to fly. I know many others who learned here and now fly for the airlines. Just where do you think the airlines will get pilots if there are no airports where they can be trained?

I'm a real Fat Cat who makes $30K a year or so. I fly into LWC in borrowed airplanes, but I have also owned small planes jointly with other pilots. I spend about $5K a year on personal travel in light aircraft. A real Fat Cat, I am.

pace 7 years, 4 months ago

I am just creeped out by the idea that low security for planes and passengers are a real selling point. I don't want my tax money to make a nice big window for people who want to avoid security. So the guy brags that he won't check to see if people are armed when they hire a private plane. He makes fun of the pat downs.He is taking a lot on himself to decide that he doesn't need to have serious security measures consistently in place. I got a pat down and didn't mind it, i think security at airports is a serious matter, I don't want Strong Hall to go on the same list as the twin towers. For people who don't think it could happen here, I pray you are right but I happen to think security is very important for an airport.

Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 4 months ago

Uses for small airports:

Air ambulance. Not so important for Lawrence, but what if you lived in Colby? I think the naysayers here should tell the people of Colby that they are not entitled to air ambulance service when their children are injured in car wrecks. (KU uses aircraft to send nurses from the Med Center all over the state...please tell residents in those areas they are no longer allowed this benefit.)

Crop dusting: Well over a dozen KS airports are used by cropdusters to keep KS in the Top 10 agriculturally.

Flight training: See above: If not for small airports, where would the airlines get new pilots?

Search and rescue. When someone is lost, it's the Civil Air Patrol and Highway Patrol who use planes to find them. Those planes need a place to land and refuel, right?

Aerial photography...satellites don't offer sufficient resolution for many projects, so photos are taken from the air.

Personal transportation: There is simply no better way to travel than by private plane. No lines, you set the schedule. In western KS, the percentage of pilots among the population is far higher. WIth small planes, they can continue to live remotely and not experience too much difficulty getting somewhere for pleasure or biz. If you want to have a conversation about subsidizing Rural AMerica, then fine, let's talk roads in remote areas, schools in remote areas, and agriculture subsidies.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

"Air ambulance. "

Fine, but what's it actually worth, and how should it be paid for? I support taxpayer subsidies to such a use, but the sky can't be the limit on how much that should be.

"Crop dusting"

Same question-- what's it actually worth, and how should it be paid for? Should taxpayers be required to subsidize the spraying of toxic chemicals for private, industrial agriculture operations?

"Flight training:" Circular argument. If there is a lot of unnecessary flying being done, or at least flying that receives unfair subsidies, then perhaps there are more pilots, and pilot training, than actually necessary. But by and large, I think those wanting to learn to fly should accept that they must pick up most of the tab.

"Search and rescue." This almost certainly accounts for a very small percentage of the flights that happen on a daily basis. And like air ambulance, using a necessary or desirable public function to justify subsidies to purely private uses doesn't make any sense. So, same question-- what's it actually worth, and how should it be paid for?

"Aerial photography" More of the same. If it's really a critical function, then it can be fully funded by those who need to do it-- no subsidies required.

"Personal transportation: There is simply no better way to travel than by private plane." This is a personal opinion, and as such, I can't say you're either right or wrong. But I can say that the taxpaying public should not be required to supply huge subsidies so that you can engage in it.

I'm not opposed to general aviation. I just think that it should be required to largely pay for itself, especially when it's people flying in for a BB game, or a corporate bigwig flying in to have a meeting that could just as easily be taken care of via a video-conference.

Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 4 months ago


Small planes don't carry enough fuel to be a bomb.

The pilots almost always KNOW their passengers, and they load the passenger's luggage themselves.

Charter passengers ARE screened against the No Fly List.


Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 4 months ago

(This was in reference to the above comment about security.)

pace 7 years, 4 months ago

You sound pretty complacent, I find your "don't worry about security at small airports" probably well intentioned but not too smart in this day and age. There are other concerns than how much fuel is in the tank. The no fly list is a lesser link in an important chain of possible security measures. It is attitudes like yours that make me hope the security rules are planned by someone with a more proactive approach. I find the idea of lax security at small airports to be yesterdays world view . Not a workable plan for today' You aren't thinking it through. I have no desire to watch very reasonable measure take place only after the fact. We should be smarter than that. We should not be looking for weak excuses to lessen security and safety practices. We are a country at war.

Lawrence_Pilot 7 years, 4 months ago

"There are other concerns than how much fuel is in the tank."

Like what? Explosives? Wouldn't the pilot know if much weight was added to his plane while he wasn't looking? He would also find it during the pre-flight inspection. And, if they were so small he couldn't detect them, they wouldn't do much damage.

The TSA says they're not worried about small aircraft. Yet you are advocating, what, a total lockdown of all 5000 small airports? Vinland Valley Aerodrome and other little grass strips included? What about farm strips, where there are one or two airplanes in a field? What's the limit? How much freedom are we willing to give up to protect us from stuff that is extremely unlikely to be a problem?

I'm much more worried about a truck bomb with fertilizer explosive. Much more powerful, much more readily available. At least those have actually been used to attack us; private planes have not.

Ah yes, the 10-year-old "we're at war" thing. If we're at war, what constitutes victory? When will it occur? How much should we spend to win it? How many more years do we call it a "war?"

pace 7 years, 4 months ago

I am glad you don't feel like the war should interfere with our personal life, that you don't feel a small amount of explosives can be dangerous, that you feel the TSA don't advocate security measures at small airports. I don't think the same way as you do. I think that we are at war and should take precautions at home and not leave defense to the troops across the water. I do think a small amount of explosive can make a big boom. understand that you don't want to pay the costs for added security, none of us do. The TSA has advocated increased security at small airports but didn't implement them yet due to resistance. I am a little sick of people hiding their heads in the sand until there are enough dead bodies to force them to be responsible.

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