News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 19, 2012

Study finds Indiana airports — including five in Valley — giving big lift to state economy

TH airport seen generating $68.7M locally

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A just-released economic impact study of Hoosier airports has Wabash Valley aviation officials flying higher than expected.

A 24-page report released Tuesday contends that Indiana’s 69 public-use airports generate $14.1 billion in economic output and sustain more than 69,000 jobs. In break-outs (below) explaining the numbers produced at each of the airports, the jobs and payroll of facility employees and tenants sites alike were tabulated.

Bill McKown, executive director of the Terre Haute International Airport, said at first look, he was a little surprised and thought the numbers were high at more than $68.7 million in economic output. But on further inspection, McKown said that figure might actually be a little low.

And given major developments already slated to land at the Terre Haute facility next year, he said bigger numbers are on the horizon.

“The big thing to remember is the economic impact (the airport) has on the community,” he said, describing aviation as part of a transportation mix including rail and highways. “We complete the equation.”

By the numbers

The 2012 Indiana Airports Economic Impact Study was organized by the Aviation Association of Indiana and Conexus Indiana in partnership with the Indiana Department of Transportation. Modeled after FAA-endorsed methodologies, it was designed to determine economic impact of on-airport and off-airport businesses using multipliers to estimate the rollover effect. State aviation officials said the data support their argument that aviation remains a significant component of the economy.

“These study results paint a clear picture of the value of Indiana’s airports not only to residents who rely on air travel for business and pleasure, but to the thousands of businesses that rely on airport services to move people and products,” Bart Giesler, executive director of the Aviation Association of Indiana, said in a news release. “This backs our continued assertion that aviation investment by the state creates jobs in the private sector. Airports connect Hoosier businesses to their customers, and this connection means jobs.”

According to the study, Indiana airports serve more than 6.5 million Hoosiers. Businesses that use those airports generate total payrolls exceeding $4.1 billion.

Of the total 69,149 jobs, approximately 30 percent exist at Indianapolis International Airport; another 23 percent exist at Indiana’s three other commercial airports; and the remaining 47 percent exist at Indiana’s 65 general aviation airports.

In addition to creating jobs in communities across the state, Indiana airports provide Hoosier communities with support for air cargo and logistics operations; emergency medical transportation; law enforcement/search-and-rescue efforts; aerial agricultural operations; flight training and education; land surveying; and entertainment.

Regionally, the report states Wabash Valley facilities are also generating substantial output totals:

• Sullivan County’s airport reportedly supports a total of 6.1 jobs, payroll impact of $347,571 and overall output of $841,385.

• Clay County’s airport supports a total of 76.8 total jobs, associated payrolls exceeding $3.2 million and a total output of more than $12.8 million.

• In Vermillion County, the airport is estimated to support 223.9 total jobs, payrolls of $11.4 million and overall output of $27.5 million.

• Putnam County’s airport reportedly supports 489.9 jobs, payrolls of $22.2 million and overall output of $103.4 million.

• And the Terre Haute airport impacts 772.4 jobs, payrolls of $39.8 million and an overall output of $68.7 million.

McKown said the local facility’s numbers reflect the partnership with multiple military units, including the 181st Intelligence Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard.

“The Guard is probably the largest employer here,” he said, explaining those jobs and associated businesses would most likely be absent were it not for an airport here. Other businesses maintain employees at the facility, from the restaurant to Tri-Aerospace, Williams Aviation and White Construction, he said.

Depending on how one counts the numerous part-time positions or seasonal labor associated with the facility’s rented farm ground and ongoing construction projects, the total on-site number of workers could actually be as high as 900, he said, adding overall economic impact could realistically be in excess of $70 million.

Smaller counties’ impact

Ron Walker, manager of the Sullivan County airport, said residents aren’t always aware of the traffic his facility receives. And some don’t even know it exists.

“We try to make it a community airport as much as we can,” he said, describing the facility’s business as “general aviation” with regular Aviation Awareness Days, aerobatics shows and other entertainment.

But corporations fly executives into the airport two or three times each month, some for Hoosier Energy and others for the area coal mines. About 34 planes are based on the local field, and four new pilots will earn their licenses by this year’s end, he said.

In Brazil, airport manager Jack Thomas said their facility is used each year for agricultural applications as crop dusters fly in from as far as Paris, Ill.

Thomas and his wife, Bobbie, have managed the airport more than 15 years and both are pilots. Thomas got his license there in 1978. The current airport actually began as a grass airstrip in the 1960s, with additions and updates made continually. Today, the airport fields about 18 planes as well as corporate aircraft for local businesses with out-of-state clients.

“It’s kind of a weekend airport,” he said, pointing out that in addition to being a business necessity, flying is fun.

The rising price of fuel has made recreational aviation a little slower these days, he said, noting current prices are between $6 and $6.50 per gallon. A Cessna 172 typically burns eight gallons an hour, and like automobiles, fuel efficiency varies among models, he explained.

“The price of fuel has really hurt the flying time of pilots here because of the cost of it,” he said, noting $50 an hour is pretty average.

Generating traffic

McKown said construction will begin this spring on a new $10.5 million Army National Guard facility to be located at the Terre Haute International Airport. Another 60 full-time jobs will be brought to the facility, in addition to the hundreds more that come for weekend drill.

“That’s a very exciting piece. That’s a real plus,” he said, pointing out how rare it is for an airport like this to host three different Guard units.

Another goal he plans to achieve is the procurement of a “vacation destination airline” which would transport travelers to a recreational facility.

Bigger than its neighbors and smaller than Indianapolis, the Terre Haute airport balances a wide range of business from university athletic team travel to the transport of prisoners to and from federal facilities. Compared with its peers, McKown said the local airport is doing well and should do even better in the coming years.

“We have a super general aviation airport,” he said, describing a plan to dominate the market available for facilities this size.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or

Crucial budgetary timing

The findings in the new study on Indiana airports’ economic effect come at a crucial time financially for the state’s aviation.

Starting this year, the federal government has reduced the portion of airport capital projects that are paid for with federal money to 90 percent from 95 percent.

That means the amount airports and state government pay for projects will double.

“As we go into a budget year, we want to make sure the Legislature understands the importance of airports,” said Bart Giesler, executive director of the Aviation Association of Indiana, which co-sponsored the study with Conexus Indiana.

The state gives airports about $1.2 million for capital projects each year, but while that’s a relatively low number, it helps bring in federal money, Giesler said. The state gets about $70 million in federal money for federal projects annually.

“If you can’t match, you lose the federal money. I want to keep those dollars here,” he said.

Andi Montgomery, owner of Montgomery Aviation, which operates Indianapolis Executive Airport, Frankfort Municipal and Grissom Aeroplex, said the projects aren’t “whimsical things.”

“They’re for infrastructure, they’re ramps, runways, instrument landing systems,” Montgomery said.

She said activity at the state’s airports is slowly improving after falling off during the recession, and the facilities need funding for new projects to keep up with the growth.

For example, Indianapolis Executive in Zionsville wants to extend its runway from 5,500 to 7,500 feet, while Frankfort Municipal wants to buy instrument landing equipment.

Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University’s Bureau of Business Research, takes a contrary view. He questioned whether many of the small airports around the state can claim to be responsible for the jobs cited in the survey, saying that most Indiana airports are a net loss for their communities.

“It’s hard to imagine a business not locating in Madison County or Delaware County if there wasn’t an airport, because you could be at Indianapolis International in 50 minutes,” he said.

David Holt, vice president of Conexus, said airports are underappreciated.

“They’re a very, very important part of our infrastructure,” he said.

Wabash Valley Airports’ Economic Impact, 2012

• Terre Haute International Airport

Total jobs impact: 772.4

Total payroll impact: $39,801,068

Output impact: $68,771,789

• Brazil Municipal Airport

Total jobs impact: 76.8

Total payroll impact: $3,2288,628

Output impact: $12,838,223

• Sullivan County Airport

Total jobs impact: 6.1

Payroll impact: $347,571

Output impact: $841,385

• Clinton Municipal Airport

Total jobs impact: 223.9

Payroll impact: $11,434,840

Output impact: $27,564,813

• Putnam County Airport

Total jobs impact: 489.9

Payroll impact: $22,296,404

Output: $103,484,12

Source: Study co-sponsored by

Aviation Association of Indiana

and Conexus Indiana.

Wabash Valley airports ready for take off

• Indiana is served by a variety of airports that play different roles in supporting the state.

• Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s classification system, the airports in Vigo, Clay, Sullivan and Putnam counties are local airports, while the facility in Vermillion County is a basic airport.

Local airports are defined as serving local/regional markets with moderate levels of activity with some multi-engine propeller aircraft. Averaging about 33 total based propeller-driven aircraft and no jets.

Basic airports are defined as serving critical aeronautical functions within local and regional markets with moderate to low levels of activity. Averaging about 10 propeller-driven aircraft and no jets.