High demand has Perry-Houston County Airport looking at new hangars

wcrenshaw@macon.comDecember 28, 2013 

PERRY -- Significant improvements have been made at the Perry-Houston County Airport in recent years, and more are in the works.

Among other things, plans are in place to build at least three new hangars. Billy Jerles, a Perry attorney who serves as chairman of the Airport Authority, said there are currently 42 people on a waiting list for hangar space.

“We’ve seen growth over the past five or six years,” Jerles said.

For financial reasons, construction of new hangars is likely at least two years away, but if it can be done, it would contribute to the authority’s goal of making the airport self-sufficient, he said.

Currently, the airport gets $44,000 each from the county and the city of Perry toward its current fiscal year operating budget of $255,000. Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said the airport is worthy of tax dollars because it contributes to economic development.

“A lot of people may see them as a recreational venue, but any time you are trying to attract industry that is one of the things they want to know about,” he said. “They will actually go and view that facility.”

Jerles said a wide range of people use the airport, including recreational pilots and businesses. He also said there is an uptick in people wanting to learn to fly, and pilot training is done at the airport.

Separate from its operating budget, the airport has a capital improvements budget funded with $150,000 in annual grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. That money has been used in recent years to make improvements such as the addition of an instrument landing system, which allows planes to land during low visibility.

The money has also been used to build existing hangars and, most recently, the resurfacing of the ramp area in front of the terminal building.

The reason new hangars may be at least two years away, despite the growing demand, is that the FAA considers two other projects a higher priority. Those are resurfacing the taxiway and putting in upgraded runway lights.

Jerles expects those projects will be done within the next two years, then the FAA money can be used to build new hangars.

Each hangar is expected to cost about $700,000 and would house 14 planes. The current rental fee for a space is $175 per month. The long, narrow buildings are designed somewhat like a self-storage building, only with spaces large enough for planes.

The buildings themselves could be financed and the loan serviced with rental fees, Jerles said, which is what the airport has done with its current hangars. However, there is additional cost in the site work and preparation, and that’s why the FAA money is needed.

Rob Bridges, a Warner Robins dentist, got his pilot’s license three years ago. He bought a 1965 Mooney M20C and flies mostly as a hobby. He was on the waiting list for about 18 months before he got an enclosed hangar space. Now, he said, the wait is about three years, and the new hangars are much needed.

“Keeping them outside is hard on these things,” he said after taking someone for a flight Friday. “The sun and the rain and all that, it takes its toll on these planes.”

While rental fees on new hangars would go toward paying off the building, Jerles said it would bring additional revenue to the airport by bringing in more planes. That means more fuel sales, which is a key source of funding.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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