Lawrence to host statewide aviation tour next week; update on projects, pending name change at Lawrence airport

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A plane is serviced at the Lawrence Municipal Airport in September 2021.

It won’t be your standard air show — no Blue Angels, for instance — but fans of airplanes may still find a slice of heaven in an event coming up later this month at Lawrence’s airport.

Owners of about 40 aircraft from across the state will be flying into the city’s airport in North Lawrence on Sept. 23 as part of the Fly Kansas Air Tour, which is run by the state of Kansas and the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education. But while members of the public will be able to check out some planes — the public is invited from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. — the event may be more about giving pilots from across the state a chance to check out Lawrence’s airport. Local leaders said it is a good time to show off the facility.

“I’ve never seen it this busy in terms of the number of projects going on out there,” said Scott Wagner, a longtime city employee who recently took over as the manager of the city-owned airport.

In fact the airport — long known as Lawrence Municipal Airport — is undergoing a name change to Lawrence Regional Airport, a sign of the growing activity at the facility, which is just east of the intersection of U.S. 24/40 and U.S. 59 highways in North Lawrence.

In addition to the name change, the airport has one recently constructed hangar that is housing a new charter service, and plans have been filed involving Hetrick Air Services — the local company that operates the airport for the city — to build a second hangar on the east edge of the airport. Plus, others are starting to see their businesses grow at the airport, Wagner said.

“The name change helps us show that we are not just serving a small area anymore, but really we’re serving a broader region,” Wagner said. “It is a sign of growth.”

Don’t look for the name change to be fully implemented by the Sept. 23 airshow, though. The name change had to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the city hasn’t yet begun the rebranding process. But do look to see some interesting aircraft at the airport the day of the fly-in.

Rick Bryant, a city-hired consultant who has helped the city with airport matters after previously being a longtime member of the city’s aviation advisory board, said he didn’t expect any jets to partake in the air tour, but there will be some fun aircraft to look at.

“You will see the gamut from home-built planes that are literally built in a basement to a couple of larger twin-engine planes,” he said.

Visitors will be able to see those planes from a distance in an outdoor observation area near the terminal building. But visitors can get up close to about a half-dozen planes that will be in a roped-off area on another portion of the airport grounds. Bryant was still finalizing the roster of planes on display, but he said at least one PT-22 aircraft — a training aircraft used by the U.S. military around the World War II era — would be on display, and a helicopter that has been refurbished in the Lawrence shop of EuroTec will be part of the event.

If you remember, I wrote in November 2019 that Eudora-based EuroTec Vertical Flight Solutions purchased a hangar at the airport for some of its operations. It sounds like that business has hit a new phase of growth at the airport, and it is one of the projects that has airport leaders excited. I’m hoping to have more to report from that company in the near future.

We also reported in 2019 about construction on a $2 million hangar just east of the terminal building at the airport. That hangar was part of a change in ownership in Hetrick Air Services and its expansion into the charter flight business. As I’ve reported, a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton purchased Hetrick after believing that the airport could be poised for growth and become a bigger part of Lawrence’s economy.

I need to get an update on the charter business, which undoubtedly was affected by COVID and the change in travel patterns, but the group continues to be bullish on the airport.

The group has filed plans to build a new 18,500-square-foot hangar a bit south and east of the hangar that was constructed in 2019. The hangar, which will be slightly smaller than the previous project, could house a mix of charter aircraft and planes owned by other individuals, I’ve been told. Plus, it could be another location for smaller jet aircraft that are landing in Lawrence and need a protected place to park overnight.

As with the last project, the city will continue to own the ground that the hangar is on, but the privately owned airport group will pay for the construction of the hangar and control its operations. However, because of the location of the project, the city will need to install a new concrete apron area to allow aircraft in the hangar to have access to the runway. Wagner estimated that portion of the project would cost about $200,000 and would be payed for by the city.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A large hangar on the east edge of the property of the Lawrence Municipal Airport, pictured in September 2021, serves a charter business and other aircraft users. Plans have been filed for a second hangar to built to the right of the current hangar.

There’s also one other project worth mentioning at the airport, especially if you are like me and always listen to your stomach. (It usually says, “Go ahead, that’s what Tums are made for.”) The airport has its first food vendor. The North Lawrence coffee shop Uplift has reached a deal to have a presence at the airport on all KU home football game days. The airport sees a fair amount of traffic from well-heeled KU alumni who fly into the airport on game days.

Now, pilots, crew and passengers can get some food as they disembark or get ready to take off. Kelli Huslig, owner of Uplift, said her son and his Uplift food truck had committed to be at the airport for every game day.

“We just want to help provide the best welcome we can for anyone coming into Lawrence,” she said.

In addition to coffee and pastries, the truck serves breakfast burritos during breakfast hours, plus street tacos and loaded mac-and-cheese during lunch and dinner hours. It also features multiple desserts.

The food truck will be onsite during the air show on Sept. 23 for members of the public.

The city and local aviation companies are hosting a private dinner and reception for pilots and crew members on the evening of the event.

There is no charge to attend the air show, but organizers are noting that parking is a bit limited and will be available on a first-come-first served basis.

As for other details about the Fly Kansas Air Tour, Lawrence is one of three overnight stops on the tour and one of nine airports that pilots will be touring. Other stops include Wellington, Fort Scott, Allen County, Clay County, Phillipsburg, Salina, Concordia and Wichita.


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