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Jackson considers expansion of airport

Jackson Municipal Airport Manager Paul Sanders, left, and pilot Dan Tonner examine Tonner’s aircraft for an oil change. The airport services aircraft six days a week. Jackson is considering adding an extended runway to the airport in the next 7-10 years. Robin Baumgarn/Daily Globe

JACKSON — The Jackson Municipal Airport may see a few changes within the next decade if the proposal from the Airport Committee comes to fruition. 

Still in its infancy, the project would construct a new 4,400-foot runway to replace the airport’s current 3,591-foot one. The longer runway would permit larger business aircraft to utilize the facility safely and ideally promote business in the Jackson area.

This new proposal is not the first time the committee has attempted to expand the runway, as a previous effort was unsuccessful. Airport Manager Paul Sanders attributes part of the previous failure to expand on a downturned economy and a smaller business community.

“The business climate has changed,” Sanders said. “That’s kind of what is driving this more this second time around — the fact the business needs are here. The last time the airport committee tried to do this, there wasn’t as strong of an entity of business requirements in Jackson. That has changed dramatically since then.”

Sanders said several businesses in Jackson use the airport often to have goods delivered or to allow visits from out-of-town business officials. Agricultural businesses also use the facility extensively in spring and summer months for fertilizing crops. By encouraging the airport use, Sanders contends the city and other businesses will see an increase in revenue through lodging and food sales of airport users staying in the area.

“The biggest misconception is people think the airport is dead and we don’t have that much activity going on here,” Sanders said.

“In all reality, we do. The shop here is running six days a week, 52 weeks a year,” Sanders said.

Currently, the city has an advantage in encouraging businesses to move to Jackson. With the airport, as well as access to I-90 and a railroad spur, the arrangement offers multiple methods for the import and export of goods and services. However, the airport is an important part of that triad, Sanders explained.

“Aviation is great — it’s a great tool,” he said. “This isn’t the only thing that is going to make Jackson grow. It’s one little cog in the big scheme of everything that’s going on for Jackson, but it’s a necessary cog.

“If it’s not there, if this airport disappeared, I think Jackson would be hurting with the businesses. We could probably see companies that say ‘OK, the airport disappeared. We’re going to probably move our company elsewhere. We need that transportation ability.’”

Aircraft safety is another concern fueling the need for expansion. At present, the length of the runway does not allow for business critical aircraft usage.

Business critical aircraft need to have adequate critical stopping distance, Sanders said. In other words, planes need enough area on a runway if a pilot has to make a last-minute stop in the event a malfunction occurs at the point of takeoff.

Sanders offered an example of a spray plane with 500 gallons of chemical and another 100 gallons of fuel on board heading north.

“If that airplane at that critical decision point in that take off distance blows a tire, the engine loses power,” he explained. “He’s going to be past 71 before he stops. God forbid if there’s a school bus full of children or a family in a car that he clips going across that interstate.”

Both the FAA and many insurance companies insist on a specified distance for the runway. In its present state, Jackson’s runway cannot be used by larger business aircraft, which could cause issues in the future.

The project is, of course, not without cons. The current location of the airport inhibits some expansions to the city’s industrial park and would require some citizens to sell part of their property to accommodate the expansion.

Sanders said he empathizes with those landowners.

“Of course there’s people that don’t want to sell their land to expand the airport,” he said. “I fully empathize with them. I wouldn’t want to lose part of my farm, even though I am getting paid for it, because someone needs to expand an infrastructure for a city or airport or school or hospital, whatever it may be.”

The project also comes with a hefty price tag. Fortunately for Jackson taxpayers, the majority of the cost would be covered by federal tax dollars. Sanders explained that taxes paid by pilots on aviation fuel and sales tax collected on airline tickets is pooled on a federal level for the expansion and updating of airports, adding that this is one of the few times when people are not being taxed for a service they aren’t using.

The money in question will pay for 90 percent of the project, Sanders said, with the city of Jackson responsible for the remaining 10 percent.

Daily Globe Reporter Robin Baumgarn may be reached at 376-7323.

Robin Baumgarn

Robin Baumgarn is a new reporter for the Daily Globe covering the Education and Northwest Iowa beats. Prior to coming to the Globe, she worked for the Ocheyedan Press-Melvin News, a weekly Iowa paper for three years. She is a 2012 graduate of Iowa Lakes Community College and lives in Northwest Iowa with her husband Ryan and three pets, Fidget, Missy and Samwise.

(507) 376-7323