The Fremont Municipal Airport Advisory Committee voted to recommend that the mayor and city councilmembers put an item on their agenda to discuss the airport’s economic impact on the city.
Councilman Vern Gibson, who was at the meeting, agreed to get the item on the council’s Sept. 14 agenda. Airport committee members plan to attend that meeting.
On Friday, committee members talked about misconceptions regarding the airport.
One involves an extension of a taxiway that runs parallel to the runway.
Although that proposed project is estimated at $4 million, the city’s share of the funding would be $400,000 — not the entire multimillion sum. The rest of these funds would come from federal dollars, said Dave Goedeken, the city’s director of public works.
In other business, members talked about the need for a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) hangar.
They also heard an update on the Nebraska Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics’ Revolving Hangar Loan Program.
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During past meetings, committee members have repeatedly discussed the importance of having an FBO hangar for large aircraft that come to the airport.
Advisory committee member Eric Johnson previously told the Tribune that a few years ago, a corporate jet flew in for business and landed on the Fremont airport’s runway.
An ice storm occurred and the jet froze to the aircraft parking apron because there wasn’t a big enough hangar to store it.
“It was here for a week before they could get it thawed out,” Johnson said.
If there had been a hangar that could have housed the jet, it could have left the airport the next day, Johnson said, adding that these situations aren’t good for the community.
“Those corporate jets are here doing quite a lot of big business in the community,” he said.
During Friday’s meeting, pilot Ken Cox also spoke about the need, while referring to an aircraft currently parked at the airport amid the threat of inclement weather.
“A good example is that $6 million dollar airplane sitting there and there’s no place to put it with these thunderstorms coming through to keep it from getting hailed on or if it’s this winter and it got ice on it,” Cox said.
Besides temporary storage of large aircraft, the FBO hangar also would house a shop and working space for Fremont Aviation, which provides aircraft maintenance and fuel.
In 2020, the committee learned there weren’t enough funds in the city budget to build both an airport terminal and an FBO hangar.
Mike Wachal, structural engineer and chief financial officer at Davis Design, said the terminal, minus fees, was estimated to cost $1.7 million.
An FBO hangar, minus fees, was estimated to cost $1.6 million.
Wachal suggested the committee focus on the terminal building, while still having a design for the FBO hangar.
Committee members have looked at ways to find funding for an FBO hangar.
Last year, Johnson and Goedeken presented an application to the Revolving Hangar Loan Program for assistance in constructing an FBO hangar.
The city was granted a $750,000 loan through that program.
Goedeken said if the monies weren’t committed by July 2021 that the application would expire.
The loan application expired Aug. 1.
Goedeken talked with Anna Lannin of the NDOT, Division of Aeronautics, about reapplying for the loan.
“I told her that we’re building the terminal, we’re designing the FBO hangar, we were trying to raise local funds via donations (for the FBO hangar) and with city funds — and we weren’t having much success with that as far as the total amount we needed, and she said, ‘You’re better holding off until those funds are available,’” Goedeken said.
Lannin also suggested waiting to reapply unless the city is going to have plans for an FBO project by next year, he said.
Goedeken talked with Fremont City Administrator Brian Newton.
“We didn’t see any way we were going to have a contract in hand to build the FBO and/or hangars,” Goedeken said.
Committee member Dave Monke asked if having this loan application expire would hurt future opportunities to have an application accepted in the future.
In discussion with Lannin, Goedeken said the board that approves these applications wouldn’t look favorably on a second application being allowed to expire, but letting it expire only once should be all right.
Committee Chairman Robert Steenblock asked Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg, who was at Friday’s meeting, if the city would have any funds for the FBO hangar.
“At this point, the terminal building is in progress right now, so we need to see some progress on that and get a building up,” Spellerberg said.
Spellerberg expressed support for the airport, which he said is an important part of Fremont. He encouraged committee members to come to a city council meeting to provide education about the airport’s economic impact and what is needed.
After Cox shared his example of the $6 million aircraft sitting outside, Spellerberg shared other needs.
“We have a lot of needs as a city, so when you’re looking at our fire department, our police department, infrastructure, how we’re spending general fund dollars and the priorities, I think that’s the challenge that you get into – especially when we just invested a good couple million dollars in a new terminal building,” Spellerberg said.
Monke asked Spellerberg: “How do we put our story together to tell them that the terminal is not going to get used if we don’t have a place to get these larger aircraft out of the weather?”
Cox said if the larger aircraft don’t come to Fremont, the city will lose out on sales of fuel and rental of cars and hotel rooms.
“The terminal project is one thing out there, but to have the hangar with it makes it a complete project,” Steenblock said. “They have to go hand in hand I believe. I think it makes it a complete package.”
Committee member Bill Dugan added that the FBO hangar isn’t for local pilots like himself, who already have hangars at the airport.
“It’s not for the people who are here,” he said. “It’s for the future of the city.”
Cox said representatives of large corporations don’t drive a car into the city. They come in a $65 million to $70 million jet.
“This place is the first impression of the city,” Cox added.
Also during the meeting, the committee learned that the city council will be asked to approve an agreement between the city and the NDOT, aeronautics division, to receive $32,500 through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Grant to offset operations at the airport.
This grant cannot be used for airport planning, development, construction or maintenance.
Congress passed the ARPA economic rescue package in response to the damage caused to the U.S. economy by COVID-19.
The airport advisory committee meets at 8:15 a.m. on the third Friday of each month at Fremont Municipal Airport, 1203 W. 23rd St., in Fremont. Meetings are open to the public.