Plans brewing for big, new building at Lawrence Regional Airport to house aircraft maintenance business; plans filed to upgrade airport terminal
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
Story updated at 3:36 p.m. Thursday:
Development plans are in the works that could make the Lawrence Regional Airport a national destination for jets and other aircraft that need significant maintenance work.
Lawrence businessman Doug Compton has confirmed to me that he has plans to build an 80,000-square-foot aircraft hangar on the grounds of the city-owned airport. The hangar would house a new partnership that he plans to form with a company that would provide a host of maintenance and renovation services for aircraft. Services could include interior repair, a paint shop and other similar services.
I haven’t yet seen formal plans filed for the project at Lawrence City Hall. Rather, I had heard that Compton recently had briefed airport leaders on his plans, and he confirmed them when I spoke with him.
Compton leads a group that owns the company that has a city contract to provide airport services — everything from selling fuel to maintaining safe flight operations at the airport. The airport itself continues to be owned by the city of Lawrence, but for decades the city has contracted with a private company to operate the airport. As we reported back in 2020, a group led by Compton purchased that company, although many of the people who ran that company — Hetrick Air Services — continue to run day-to-day operations at the airport.
If you are unfamiliar, Lawrence’s airport is located in North Lawrence along U.S. Highway 24/40, north and east of the developed part of North Lawrence.
Compton, who is a jet owner, told me he became interested in the project after realizing how long wait lists had become for people who wanted to have their aircraft repainted or otherwise refurbished. He said it often is a six- to nine-month wait for an aircraft to get an appointment at such a facility.
He did not identify the company he plans to partner with, but said it is experienced in the business and is an airport operator itself in other locations across the country.
Compton said he thinks the maintenance facility could employ 15 to 20 people, most of them skilled technician types of positions. Importantly, he said, the project would provide a boost to the vitality of the airport by increasing the number of flights in and out of the airport. Those flights produce fuel sales for the airport, but flight numbers also can be important when the airport applies for federal aviation grant money.
“I think it could mean lots of additional traffic for the airport,” Compton said. “We could have planes from all over the world flying in here.”
It also would mean a really big building for the airport. In recent years, a group led by Compton built a hangar just east of the airport’s terminal building to house jets that are used as part of a charter company. That large hangar is about 22,000 square feet. The hangar Compton has envisioned would be about four times that size at 80,000 square feet.
Lawrence airport manager Scott Wagner told me there is not yet a timeline for the hangar project to go through the city’s development process, but that the city’s Airport Aviation Advisory Board will be asked to weigh in on the project in October.
But, certainly, the idea of an aviation repair business at the airport isn’t a far-fetched one. As we’ve reported, the Lawrence airport already is home to a company that provides sales and service to helicopter owners from all over the world. Back in October 2021, I reported that Eudora-based Eurotec Vertical Flight Solutions was operating at the airport and hopes to expand its operations there. At that time, the company said it could envision the need for a 50,000-square-foot facility for a showroom, service space and corporate offices. Plans haven’t yet been filed for that development either, although Eurotech continues to have a large presence at the airport.
One project at the airport that is well along in the planning process involves renovations to the terminal building, which is the place where pilots and visitors check in or wait while at the airport. The city of Lawrence, as owner of the building, has filed for a site plan to build several upgrades at the terminal building, using money from a federal grant.
Wagner told me the project is expected to involve about $2.2 million worth of construction work, although the terminal building won’t increase in size.
Rather, plans call for an upgrade and an expansion of the parking areas around the terminal. Wagner said consultants currently are working to determine how many additional parking spaces can be accommodated at the airport as part of the project.
“It does get busy on peak demand days at the airport,” Wagner said.
In addition to the parking lot improvements, the project will include a wider entrance road with curb and gutter and street lighting leading to the terminal and a new monument sign for the airport along U.S. Highway 24/40, among other improvements.
Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners are scheduled to consider approval of the project next month, and Wagner said the goal is to have a contractor selected by the end of November to take advantage of the approximately $1 million the city received as part of the federal infrastructure program previously approved by Congress. Wagner said the city is looking for additional grant funding to pay for improvements not covered by the infrastructure grant.