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Airport expansion plans taking off

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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The 32 new hangars at the Lincoln Regional Airport are just the start of a planned expansion that will include a modern arrival and departure facility. That’s according to airport Manager Dave Daly. Opening last month, the hangars are a welcome and much-needed addition to the airport facilities, bringing the total number of hangars on site to 197, Daly said. “They’re a great revenue generator for the airport,” Daly said. “We had a list of about 58 people wanting hangar space. Thirty of the 32 are full. I’m very happy.” Pilot Joe La Russa moved to Lincoln a year ago, relocating from Sacramento Executive Airport, where he had a shade hangar that protected his plane from the sun. His aircraft was damaged several times by high winds, La Russa said. “Hangars are one of those coveted things that are hard to come by,” La Russa said. Until moving into one of the new city-leased hangars, La Russa shared a space with a friend. “I couldn’t be more ecstatic,” La Russa said. “I get to keep my bird out of the wind, rain and sun.” La Russa likened watching the hangars being built to watching his house being built. The hangars were built at a cost of $2.3 million through a League of California Cities improvement financing program, Daly said. None of the funding for the hangars or for planned future improvement projects comes from the General Fund, according to Daly. The current hangars represent a new direction in the way the city deals with hangars, Daly said. Whereas in the past, the hangars have been privately owned and leased on city property, Daly explained, these hangars are owned by the city and leased, making them more profitable in the long run. The next planned expansion is something the airport has never had in its 67-year history – an arrival-and-departures facility. Originally built as a training base for B-25 bombers in 1942, the airport did not need an arrivals-and-departures terminal. When the city acquired it as surplus property in 1947, a dedicated arrival-and-departures facility was never built, Daly said. The facility is currently in the design phase. That design will come before the Lincoln City Council for approval in the coming weeks. “The reason for the project is to create an identifiable and distinct central facility for the airport,” Daly said. If approved in its current state, the facility will house the city’s airport administration and operations staff, contain a public lobby, public meeting room and public restrooms. In addition, the design includes space for a restaurant and future aviation businesses, including space for a pilots’ supply shop and flight school, according to Daly. “It will be a very good thing for us,” said Kent Atkin, co-owner of Atkin Air, a business offering aircraft chartering, sales and training. “People always like to go to a nice, terminal-type building. Right now, we have a lounge but it’s not nearly as accessible as a terminal building.” The estimated cost of the facility is $4.5 million and Daly is hopeful that some of the economic-stimulus money can finance it. If enough stimulus money is procured, the construction could start as early as this summer. With a six- to eight-month construction timeline, that would make the facility ready in early 2010. The project will start in 2010 or 2011 if stimulus money is not involved, Daly said, as the money will come from government grants and airport funds. Those funds come from rental of airport land and hangars as well as fuel services owned by the city. La Russa said he looks forward to having the arrival and departures facility. “It’s not just about flying,” La Russa said. “It’s about the whole experience. I like to watch the planes come and go, have breakfast, lunch and dinner and hang out even when I’m not flying.” La Russa added that part of the fun of flying is to visit another airport and stop in for lunch, and that the new facility will be a great way to put people to work, from the construction side of the project and through creating jobs by bringing a restaurant and other amenities. “When the economy comes back, it’ll be a great thing to have,” Atkin said. When finished, Daly said the Lincoln Regional Airport will be on par with Sacramento Executive Airport. “It’s an investment in the future, as well as an investment for today,” Daly said. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.