Archive for Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rising aviation fuel prices contribute to emptier skies over Lawrence

Seth Fox, of Atchison, often travels to Lawrence Municipal Airport in his Cessna 150d. It costs Fox more than $110 to fill the Cessna's tank.

Seth Fox, of Atchison, often travels to Lawrence Municipal Airport in his Cessna 150d. It costs Fox more than $110 to fill the Cessna's tank.

May 31, 2011



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This graphic compares the cost and time of flying and driving to Hays, Wichita and Kansas City from Lawrence.

This graphic compares the cost and time of flying and driving to Hays, Wichita and Kansas City from Lawrence.

Seth Fox, owner of High Plains Inc., a liquor distillery in Atchison, said he flies for recreation.

Seth Fox, owner of High Plains Inc., a liquor distillery in Atchison, said he flies for recreation.

About this series

Kansas University School of Journalism students in the advanced classes of Scott Reinardy, Julie Denesha and Mike Williams produced this series about the effects of escalating gasoline prices in Lawrence. This is Part 3.

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

If the price of aviation fuel continues to rise, Seth Fox said he’ll fill his plane with ordinary gasoline.

After landing his two-seat Cessna at Lawrence Municipal Airport, Fox, a pilot from Atchison, said he wasn’t kidding about the gas. He’s done it before, although it did cause the plane’s single engine to fail during landing. Fox said that was “no big deal.”

“I’d switch to high octane,” he said. “It burns better.”

Aviation fuel prices, just like gasoline, continue to climb. But while gasoline hasn’t yet reached $4 per gallon locally, owners of private aircraft generally pay at least $5 per gallon.

At Lawrence Municipal Airport, Hetrick Air Services Inc. offers refueling service at $5.88 per gallon. According to AirNav, an aviation information service based in Atlanta, fuel in Kansas City, Chicago and Dallas is more than $6 per gallon. In Washington, D.C., it’s more than $8. Nationally, the average wholesale price of aviation fuel rose almost 25 percent in the first three months of 2011.

Runway clearance

On this day, Fox was the only pilot in sight. He parked his Cessna next to the lone King Air 350 propeller plane on the tarmac.

Airport operator Lloyd Hetrick said fewer planes have been coming through the airport since 2008. He owns Hetrick Air Services, and his 22 employees account for about half of the airport staff.

“Our traffic is down, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But probably what’s affecting us most, and eating into profits, is the price of fuel.”

Hetrick said there have been no layoffs because of the downturn, and he didn’t expect any. But less money moving through the airport means less tax revenue for the city. A 2009 economic impact study by the Kansas Department of Transportation estimated that Lawrence’s airport contributed $10.7 million to the region’s economy through payroll, purchases and taxes.

Because the municipal airport does not operate a control tower, exact figures relating to its traffic are not available. But estimates provided by the city government as part of an airport study show a significant drop in traffic. In 2001, total operations — takeoffs and landings — were estimated at more than 31,000. In 2009, FAA estimates showed more than 34,000 operations, but that figure dropped below 32,000 in 2010, a decline of nearly 6 percent.

Hetrick said the airport averages about 50 operations per day. At that rate, the airport would handle fewer than 20,000 operations this year.

The decline isn’t just local. The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association reports that, nationally, 1.4 million small aircraft were no longer on airport traffic logs between 2008 and 2010.

Institutions such as Kansas University have also reduced chartered flights.

At Lawrence Municipal, not far from Fox’s Cessna, KU’s eight-seat Cessna Citation Bravo sits in a private hangar. The Cessna carries university staff on fund-raising and recruiting trips but flies less often now than it did three years ago. KU also maintains partial ownership of a six-seat King Air C-90B in Kansas City. University flights have dropped from more than 400 in 2007 to fewer than 300 in 2010, according to Jill Jess, a university spokeswoman. She said the reduction in flights was largely due to university budget cuts.

Those flying university aircraft can purchase fuel at a discount because KU belongs to a corporate aircraft association. At $4.55 per gallon, KU does better than Fox, the private pilot who paid $5.40 when he filled up in Atchison. Even so, KU spent $727,600 to maintain the aircraft in 2010, up from less than $700,000 in 2007.

KUMC Outreach reduction

Departments such as KU Athletics and KU Medical Center pay the university for fuel and other flight costs when they use the planes. KU Med’s rural outreach program accounts for about 60 percent of the university flights. It, too, is feeling the pinch of rising fuel prices.

The medical center’s rural outreach program flies cancer specialists and other physicians across Kansas to treat patients. Dave Cook, assistant vice chancellor of the outreach program, said flying was often the only way specialists could easily reach patients in small towns.

“In Hays, Garden City, Goodland, there just aren’t that many oncologists or rheumatologists,” Cook said. “So people don’t have access.”

While driving or flying commercially is often cheaper, physicians with morning and evening rounds do not have time to drive several hours to Garden City and back or wait in airports, Cook said. But he said budget cuts and increased fuel costs oblige KU Med to stretch its travel dollars. To save money, KU Med physicians sometimes practice “tele-medicine,” meeting with patients via Internet video software.

Cook said he’s not sure what the future holds for the program.

“The way things are going, as we look into the future, it’s a little scary,” he said. “Everything is under the microscope.”

Friendly, empty skies

Fox owns High Plains Inc., a liquor distillery in Atchison. He flies for recreation and said his Cessna “just sips the fuel” at 5.5 gallons per hour. Because the plane is paid off, it doesn’t cost him much, but if the day comes when he can’t afford fuel, he’ll sell it. He said he thinks other pilots, saddled with loan payments, higher fuel costs and other pressures in a down economy, have already sold theirs.

That’s why airports such as Lawrence’s have seen fewer planes on the runway in the past three years. A city study projects future increases in traffic as the economy recovers and Lawrence air traffic follows national trends upward at a rate of about 3,000 operations every five years. But for now, the skies are emptier than they used to be.


nedcolt 4 years, 4 months ago

Hey,,lets put a few more million in airport...

d_prowess 4 years, 4 months ago

Does anyone have any idea how fast the plane the Fox owns is? It seems crazy that he could fly for an hour and only use up 5.5 gallons of fuel and so I was wondering how far that might get him.

William McCauley 4 years, 4 months ago

What is really funny is I tried to start an "adventure sports/sightseeing" type business using the airport about three years ago and some of the same people quoted in this story are the same people who where telling the city and trying to tell the FAA there is too much air traffic to allow any such type of business like that here in Lawrence, not no, but hell no!

We would have be looking to buy many gallons of 100LL a year and fly about 8 to 10 hrs a week or more, adding to the TO&L cycle counts (used to get larger grant funding contracts to improve airports) and it's a business geared to marketing locally as well as to the 5 or 6 counties around here to try to bring people to town & airport to...... get this..... SPEND THEIR MONEY! ( I know what a stupid idea, imagine that, get people to come to town to spend money when it's not a game day, wow who would have thunk it)

NOPE, too much air traffic here for that, you should open your business in Gardner Ks., They said...... ain't that right boys....... that's what you all said isn't it..... Said something like that to those other folks about 2005 too didn't you..... yup, public record.

Oh yea, the hicks in the sticks, Lawrence, the good old boy network...... Proven by the media to be liars!

Thanks: Ian Cummings, look forward to sending this story to some people Washington DC.

bliddel 4 years, 4 months ago

What TheBigW didn't mention was that his adventure business involves skydiving, which is known to kill people, and is particularly unsuitable for doing at airports like Lawrence where there is a very active helicopter medical ambulance business. He wasn't going to bring any activity Monday through Friday, but only on weekends, like big KU football and Race-day weekends which are already (still) busy.

He didn't want to go through normal channels, but came here looking for a fight. He'd rather sue his way into the airport, and he's unhappy because that isn't working very well.

William McCauley 4 years, 4 months ago

Really, might want to check your facts about federal funded general aviation airports in class E airspace that are required to operate under FAA order 5190.6B along with a number of other FAR's and AC's.

Oh and BTW, we are plan on operating seven days a week April to Nov.

Aviation kills people, cars kill people, guns kill people, lot of things kill people, again you might want to check your facts....

"He didn't want to go through normal channels" Really, you mean like following FAR 105.23B. or under the laws of the national airspace system contacting the FAA to enforce the contract the city signed for 11.5 million dollars..... yea try reading FAA order 5190.6B

Oh and while your at it, maybe you get Chucky Soules to let you read the copy of the FAA safety study that states clearly skydiving can conducted on that airport safely, unlike all your hot air in your post again if you were not so busy trying to tout the party line of the good old boys club and took the time read the current guidance from the FAA, it prove you don't WTF your talking about!

As in baseball, try bullsh**ing the fans not the players!

bliddel 4 years, 4 months ago

OK Sports fans... I told you he came here looking for a fight. He's obviously still looking for a fight, and he obviously has yet to comprehend why the regulations he cites are totally irrelevant to the real reason he can't just do whatever he pleases, and screw the city. Until he can control his anger, he's the last person in the world with whom you'd ever want to climb into an airplane.

William McCauley 4 years, 3 months ago

(quote) OK Sports fans... I told you he came here looking for a fight. He's obviously still looking for a fight, and he obviously has yet to comprehend why the regulations he cites (quote)


Hey you might want to do a little research and try reading the FAA order 5190.6B again, along with AC 5190/150-6 and AC 5190/150-7 & AC 90-66A over at

Before you start reading all that, you might be in need of some remedial pilot training or a class in 8th grade reading comprehension skills.

FYI- note the date of this AC release of May 18th 2011 /Advisory_Circular/AC%20105-2D.pdf

Oh BTW, would like a personal invite to visit with the national level FAA inspectors when they come to town, that way you can come out and run your mouth to them and explain all about how you know better then the FAA what the rule books says....... Oh yea, that's right, I'm the one looking for a fight......

clovis_sangrail 4 years, 4 months ago

That's what we need -- someone hobby-flying over Lawrence using gas that he knows can cause the engine to conk out just to save a few bucks. Let's just hope that when it happens, he comes down somewhere unpopulated so the only harm is to himself.

I have no more sympathy for someone who can afford an airplane but cannot afford the upkeep than I have for the person who bought too much house and cannot keep up the payments on the wide-screen TV and the Lexus lease.

bliddel 4 years, 4 months ago

Sometimes you cannot believe what you read in the newspaper because the writer just plain gets it wrong. I ran auto fuel in an airplane for years, and NEVER had any trouble. Auto fuel DOES NOT cause an engine to fail. That's hogwash. If auto fuel were unsafe, the FAA would never approve it. The FAA approves the use of auto fuel in certain airplanes under a supplemental type certificate (STC). I fully expect that Mr. Fox's airplane has such an STC.

Now then, if your engine quits "during landing" when you are inches off the runway, and lined up with the runway, and intending to land anyway, you really couldn't ask for a better time to have your engine quit unexpectedly. So yes, it's really NO BIG DEAL!

bliddel 4 years, 4 months ago

Ah yes, cruising altitude... which could be anywhere from 3,000 feet to 12,000, or more in higher performance airplanes. Well, you can glide in a light general aviation airplane typically 8 feet forward for every one foot down, so even with 3,000 feet altitude, you can glide almost five miles. If that's not far enough to find an airport, it's still usually enough to find an un-plowed field or a deserted road, or even a divided highway.

The worst time to have an engine failure is on takeoff, because then you don't have much altitude and you're pointed away from the nearest airport. Fortunately, engine failures are very rare, and most of those are preventable (fuel exhaustion is a big cause).

Lawrence_Pilot 4 years, 4 months ago

No, car gas doesn't make airplane engines quit. Note that this was written by student journalists. And it shows.

Tens of thousands of 4-seat and 2-seat airplanes operate on car gas. 86 octane is usually good enough, but most pilots use premium 91 octane (no ethanol allowed, by the way...rots the rubber fuel tanks and seals!) Airports sell 100 octane, which can be used in every piston-engine aircraft but which is required in aircraft with bigger engines and higher compression ratios.

Really, there was one sentence of information here that was useful: "Air traffic at Lawrence Municipal Airport and thousands like it have seen a 10-20% decline in traffic since 2008." That's really all you need to know. But it's not about the fuel as much as it is about the economy. And, since this year's fuel price increases were relatively short, I doubt there is anything but anecdotal evidence that the recent runup curtailed air traffic.

I love the way the "reporters" could only find one lone pilot, of a 2-seat airplane, to interview...they didn't look too hard. The airport could have put them in touch with many others if they'd bothered to ask.

Lawrence_Pilot 4 years, 4 months ago

I love the way the attached map graphic compares the cost of driving a Prius to an airplane. Why not a bicycle, too? Chigga, puhleez.

Wayne Propst 4 years, 4 months ago

the airport has been an endless money pit.....remember when they spent multi-millions on "improvements" so as to cash in on the traffic from the NASCAR races... ha ...or our "cargo Cult" terminal where not a sigle sceduled plane has landed in 25 + years....They always lie abuout "traffic"....over the years it has averaged approx. $41.00 per "operation" paid by Lawrence tax payers...enjoy yer hobby boys...and shut down the arts.....

bliddel 4 years, 4 months ago

Could you elaborate on how you calculated that Lawrence Taxpayers foot $41 in costs per "operation"? I'm sure you're aware that 95% of the infrastructure improvements at LWC are paid from airport improvement funds, the vast majority of which are collected via Federal fuel taxes.

Who's lying about traffic counts? Do you have surveillance video with which to dispute the educated estimates of the professionals who made them?

Ever hear of TSA? You want commercial air traffic at LWC? Are you nuts? $Billions on TSA wasted, with not a singe terrorist ever apprehended.

kernal 4 years, 4 months ago

This story confirms what many of us already thought - we do NOT need to spend tax payers money to enlarge this airport.

William McCauley 4 years, 4 months ago

Well I got news for you, the city of Lawrence is currently seeking to request 13.5 million in funding to expand the runways for bigger class biz jets, you know all the ones the race car drivers use and the fat cats who fly into see ball games....

Well that and it seem a great deal of local pilots suck and need as much room as they can get to take off and land their hanger queen, seeing how they can't seem fly VFR.

bliddel 4 years, 4 months ago

Maybe not this year, but what about next year? When the economy recovers, growing businesses will locate wherever the best airports are. You want to miss that boat? I need a job, so I don't want to miss that boat.

You don't want to pay for an airport that will continue to stimulate our local economy? Fine. Stop buying airplane fuel, and stop complaining.

William McCauley 4 years, 4 months ago

You want to come on here and tout the same lies and misinformation told to the city by the LAAB members, one of who used his seat as chairman of the LAAB to land a seat with Airport development group, the company who helps airport sponsors comply with the grant funding requirments.... (one would think he would know the laws and not offer advice to the city in direct violation of grant assurances he is tasked to help the city comply with)

Yet you seem to think that airport is your own little personal "country club" where only select people are allowed to come and use it.... sounds a lot like "we don't like your kind around, BOY!" Like a bunch inbred southern rednecks who are still hung up on allowing blacks and women to have civil rights.

Tell you what you want to be a bunch of discriminatory good old boys then get your hand back in your own pockets and out of the US tax payer pockets to fund your little "rich white guy only" play ground and then, when you fund it with your own money then you can do as you please with it and make it a private airport with an R on the sectional, then you can stop your lies and whining about other people who like exercising the same rights your afforded under federal aviation laws!

William McCauley 4 years, 4 months ago$FILE/150_5190_6.pdf

4.BACKGROUND. In accordance with the FAA Airport and Airway Improvement Act of l982, 49U.S.C.§ 47101, et seq., 49 U.S.C. § 40103(e), and the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant assurances, the owner or operator of any airport that has been developed or improved with Federal grant assistance is required to operate the airport for the use and benefit of the public and to make it available for all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical activity

a. Aeronautical Activity. Any activity that involves, makes possible, or is required for the operation of aircraft or that contributes to or is required for the safety of such operations. Activities within this definition, commonly conducted on airports, include, but are not limited to, the following: general and corporate aviation, air taxi and charter operations, scheduled and nonscheduled air carrier operations, pilot training, aircraft rental and sightseeing, aerial photography, crop dusting, aerial advertising and surveying, aircraft sales and services, aircraft storage, sale of aviation petroleum products, repair and maintenance of aircraft, sale of aircraft parts, parachute or ultralight activities, and any other activities that, because of their direct relationship to the operation of aircraft, can appropriately be regarded as aeronautical activities. (PAGE 15)

f. Availability of Fair and Reasonable Terms: (1) Applies to airports subject to: Any federal agreement or property conveyance.

(2) Obligation: To operate the airport for the use and benefit of the public to make it available to all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical activity on fair and reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination.

(3) Duration of obligation: Twenty years from the date of execution for grant agreement prior to 1964. For grants executed subsequent to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the statutory requirement prohibiting discrimination remains in effect for as long as the property is used as an airport. The obligation runs with the land for surplus property and section 16/23/516 conveyances.

Like I said, if your going to talk smack, at least learn what the rules are and where the money comes from and what is required by the "airport sponsor" once you take the money. If you want to take the funding then stop bitching about other airspace users, after all I'm sure I don't care your type of aviation but I go around asking for you to be banned from using the airport.

furman 4 years, 4 months ago

first of all i got some bad 87 oct gas and was a one time event back in 1995. and yes it is stc'd for 87 oct. my attemps to extract usable fuel from baby seals has failed. which isn't all bad because i found out that this type of fuel production is frowned upon.

chill out people you are way too serious. have a good summer!

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