While repairing his hangar at Municipal Airport damaged by wind along with the Armory last June 19, pilot Eric Richardson, Thursday’s Rotary program chairman, added this sign. It pays tribute to Heddon’s launching the first U.S. commercial aviation company here in 1920 with planes that looked like flying fish. Richardson introduced Airport Manager Gary Carlile by saying, “He’s a quiet guy who doesn’t blow his own horn, so a lot of people probably don’t know what all he’s gotten done. It’s one of the nicest airports around.” (The Daily News/John Eby)
While repairing his hangar at Municipal Airport damaged by wind along with the Armory last June 19, pilot Eric Richardson, Thursday’s Rotary program chairman, added this sign. It pays tribute to Heddon’s launching the first U.S. commercial aviation company here in 1920 with planes that looked like flying fish. Richardson introduced Airport Manager Gary Carlile by saying, “He’s a quiet guy who doesn’t blow his own horn, so a lot of people probably don’t know what all he’s gotten done. It’s one of the nicest airports around.” (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Airport’s goal breaking even

Published 8:37am Friday, March 26, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Managing Municipal Airport continues Gary Carlile’s streak of jobs “you never think you’re going to do” – especially since he’s not a pilot.

“I’ve done a lot of those since I’ve been in Dowagiac,” said Carlile, who also ran Riverside Cemetery and oversaw community development with his last title, grounds director.

Carlile began with the city in June 1973 as parks and recreation director.

“Nobody wants to do it? ‘Give it to Carlile. He’s not doing anything,’ ” he jokingly compared himself to Mikey in the Life cereal commercials Thursday noon in a talk to Dowagiac Rotary Club at Elks Lodge 889, which in February 1996 named the Elkhart, Ind., native Dowagiac “Citizen of the Year.”

What a different place Dowagiac would be had Carlile not happened to deliver Henry Graper’s desk to City Hall.

“I learned as I went,” he said of managing an airport classified as general aviation, a step above a utility airport.

“That’s the nice thing about Dowagiac. It’s not a huge operation. Basically, we have a main runway,” 927.

“Runways are numbered based upon their wind orientation. North is zero. South, 180. The idea is to get as much wind coverage as you can so you can land as much as you can because you always land into the wind. Our runway 927 gives in excess of 90-percent wind coverage,” Carlile said. “We also have a turf runway, 422, which is very popular with local pilots, of which we have a tremendous number. There aren’t a lot of turf runways around, so it’s sort of a draw for us.”

While most airports have licensed managers like Carlile, Dowagiac’s lacks an FBO, or fixed-based operator, though there have been three during Carlile’s career.

“This is a guy who runs a business operation to dispense fuel, do mechanics, charter operations and offer flying lessons,” Carlile said. “They faded away because they couldn’t make a living in Dowagiac.

“The city is not in a position to pay money for these guys in addition to giving them an incentive-based contract and insurance rates are extremely high, so Dowagiac has me. I’m an absentee manager. Our airport is non-staffed,” yet the lights are on when nobody’s home at the insistence of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“I’m available 24/7 by phone,” he added, “but there’s nobody there to meet you – and that’s likely the way it’s going to be for some time.

Most airports receive FAA funding for improvements.

“These improvements, of course, come with strings,” Carlile said. “Some airports don’t receive FAA money. They don’t have to worry about what their runways are, approach slopes and whether trees are too high or too low – except their insurance carriers may care a lot – but Dowagiac has had FAA involvement as far back as 1973.

“If your airport is a visual approach slope airport, you can go up one foot for every 30 feet you go out. You also have slope requirements on the side. Airports are bowls in which guys can land. The bigger the aircraft, the more technical navigation systems they have, the more restrictive approaches become.”

While airport improvement money comes from the FAA, such funds are derived from “aviation-based functions,” such as fuel tax and passenger tax generated in larger airports.

That has notably worked to Dowagiac’s advantage.

“The neat thing that’s happened since about 1998 is the federal government has set up an airport aid development program based upon the amount of activity your airport has had financially in the past.

“Up until 2000, Dowagiac had slightly over $1 million of activity and we keep up with long-term master planning and go to meetings so they know who we are,” Carlile said.
“Dowagiac gets $150,000 per year for approved aviation activities,” he said. “Since 2000, the city has received $1,979,000 for aviation improvements. Of this almost $2 million, the City of Dowagiac has paid $83,000. Of that $83,000, we got $40,000 logging timber.
Since 2001, the city has only spent about $12,000 of its own taxpayer money on all these improvements. We did the lighting system, we redid runway 927, spending almost $1 million keeping it up to shape; we’ve done new taxiways, we’ve got a snowplow truck and we built a building for the snowplow truck. We just completed installing a $216,000 fuel system with a 12,000-gallon tank. All of this stuff has been funded by the FAA and the state, which gets funds from the FAA as well, at 97.5 percent. We’ve paid 2.5 percent.”

In 2010, Carlile said, the airport needs to address drainage along runway 927, which wasn’t done in 2005 with the runway itself.

In 2011-2012, “We hope to construct hangars which will be owned by the city for rental to pilots,” Carlile said. “This will generate revenue for the city.”

Carlile said the Michigan Aeronautics Division – “a good bunch of really sharp people” – requires a revenue generation calculation to gauge payback, so “if nobody’s interested in these hangars, we can’t build them. All our existing hangars are full. The biggest thing we need to do at our airport is work toward breaking even.”

Municipal Airport operates on a $67,000 budget. Income is $55,000.

The airport’s eight buildings contain 25 privately-owned hangars.

Due to “ground space leases,” pilots own buildings or hangars within a building, but rent the ground from the city at a fixed monthly rate.

The city also owns six hangars it rents.

Farm leases are another revenue source.

“When we did our major expansion clear back in 1975,” he said, “bids came in so well, we acquired all the land to build a future (3,300-foot) 1735 crosswind runway. Farming leases rival our hangar income. We’ve maintained and protected our main runway 927, which is 4,750 feet long by 100 feet wide. That runway was constructed in the ’80s to accommodate Sundstrand and Sid Tremble. They paid the local share of the funds, which at that time was 10 percent. Ironically, within five years of completion, Sundstrand went away and Mr. Tremble passed away.

“If we tried to build that 4,750-feet by 100-foot-wide now, it wouldn’t happen because it’s based on use. We can’t justify that 1735 crosswind runway, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen at some point in the future.

“Our airport is a recreational facility. We don’t have any commercial operations going on. But that recreational base is the guys who rent the ground and hangars and buy gas, creating the income which supports the economic development side of the operation.
“The long-term goal I have been mandated to achieve by the city administration is a break-even operation. I’m a part-time part-time employee. I work when I need to work and we keep our eye on the ball. As time goes on, my position will possibly be phased into other city divisions because lowering your administrative overhead reduces costs. More hangars on the ground increase revenue. When those two things happen, we hope to get our airport to where it doesn’t cost our taxpayers anything.”

Carlile said Cindy LaGrow, Dowagiac’s economic development consultant, “is a real go-getter, and every time I talk to her she tells me that one of the first things companies ask is, ‘What type of airport do you have?’ And they might not have an airplane, but they want to be able to fly people in to their business and they want to fly things out. She’s working with a company out of California and they want that transportation system component available to them.

“We would like to go out to 5,100 feet because (corporate jets) can land physically, but insurance requirements are stringent for these guys. Our airport board chairman’s son is a commercial pilot flying out of Warsaw, Ind., and they can land here dandy except their insurance guys say no.”

Dowagiac “has been selected by the FAA for a GPS approach system, so we’re in the mix when it comes along. They picked airports throughout the state and the FAA paid for the $30,000 study for Dowagiac alone. That’s an expense we didn’t have” to absorb.
Rotarian Charlie Gratz wondered if the airport is not rated for instruments why  lights are on at night.

“Don’t ask me why,” Carlile said, “but we are required by the FAA to have them on for a particular period of time, three to four hours every evening. I asked that question myself because I’m looking at utility bills. When Kevin Anderson came in as the new city manager, that’s one of the first things he asked me.”

Richardson said the joke about airlines taking off automatically is all they need is a pilot and a dog. “The pilot’s there to feed the dog and the dog’s there to bite the pilot if he touches anything.”
Rotarian Don Woodhouse reported that M.E. Harper, former Cass District Library director, is president-elect of the Romeo, Mich., club.

That beat City Clerk Jim Snow’s groaner about why chicken coops have two doors.
“Because if it had four doors it would be a sedan.”

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