After working with outdated information for many years, Jefferson City officials look forward to updating the Jefferson City Memorial Airport master plan.
After 26 years, the Jefferson City Memorial Airport will receive an update to its master plan after the Jefferson City Council approved a $283,254 contract with Jviation Inc. earlier this month. The master plan update may be complete in about a year.
Similar to the current airport master plan, the new one will lay out guidelines for the airport over the next 15-20 years.
Earlier this year, Airport Manager Ron Craft told the Jefferson City Airport Advisory Committee the airport met most of the recommendations in the 1992 master plan, including runway and taxiway upgrades, facility improvements and traffic forecasts.
The Federal Aviation Administration finalized the 1992 Airport Master Plan Update in 1993, which was an update to the original 1979 Master Plan Study. The city contracted with local group Bryan & Associates and Kansas City-based company Bucher, Willis & Ratliff, Consulting Engineers, Planners and Architects to prepare the 1992 plan.
Similar to now, the city was looking for an updated direction in the early 1990s to guide the future planning and development of the airport, according to the 1992 plan.
The master plan not only lays out guidelines for the airport but also gives the Jefferson City Memorial Airport more of a crutch when it requests funding from the FAA for certain projects. The FAA requires all airports to have master plans to be eligible for federal and state funding.
"The document is like a business plan, but it's overlayed with the rules and regulations of the FAA. So, for instance, there's so many feet you have to be away from a taxiway or runway, so we have to overlay those rules and we fit our business model around those rules," Jefferson City Operation Division Director Britt Smith said. "So this tries to integrate those two features."
The Jefferson City Memorial Airport is a regional general aviation airport, which means the airport reaches Jefferson City and other nearby communities including the Lake of the Ozarks area, Columbia, Eldon and Fulton.
Under general aviation, the airport provides services like flight instruction, aircraft rentals, space for personal flying and hangar space for individuals and companies that own their own aircraft or can rent them. It does not offer commercial airlines.
The plan states general aviation airports typically have relatively low profiles and focus on convenience, safety and quick accessibility, along with time and cost savings.
Soaring in and out of Jefferson City
The Jefferson City Memorial Airport is the sixth-busiest airport in the state in terms of aircraft movements, Craft said, seeing 32,678 aircraft movements (takeoffs and landings) 2017.
In comparison, Columbia Regional Airport — an air carrier airport that offers commercial flights — experienced 22,000 aircraft movements 2017, Craft said, but the Columbia airport experiences more passengers than Jefferson City.
In 1993, the Jefferson City Memorial Airport saw nearly 56,000 total aircraft movements, and the plan anticipated it would have 96,000-97,000 total operations by 2015.
Craft told the Airport Advisory Committee in March the airport met traffic forecasts but added the traffic forecasts in the master plan were inaccurate and the plan did not take into various items that occurred since its creation.
The plan does not account for the Missouri Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility moving from the northeast corner of the airport to Fort Leonard Wood in the early 2000s, said Smith, who trained as a pilot with the Missouri Army National Guard.
According to the plan, the National Guard's aviation facility had about 20 aircraft at the time, which played a large part in the total amount of operations at the time.
The plan also doesn't take into account the 1993 floods, 2007 economic recession, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lack of funding for airport improvements and a decrease in pilots, Smith and Craft said.
Jefferson City Memorial Airport saw a steady decrease in aircraft movements from 2005-09, according to the airport's traffic count spreadsheet, dropping from 32,146 aircraft movements to 25,006 operations.
"This plan is based around 1992 and what the airport looked like in 1992," Craft said. "They'll put benchmarks in an airport master plan and say, 'Well, you should try to do this in five years,' but the reality of it is it's also tied to funding. It's tied to how accurate their traffic projections are, the economy fluctuates and everything. They might say, 'You'll have 60,000 aircrafts 10 years from now,' but when 10 years gets here, you might be short of that or you might have more than that. You try to hit those benchmarks — and some of them you do hit, but some you don't because the need and funding aren't there."
The community's economic prosperity heavily dictates the airport's activities.
"The demand for aviation services has, historically, been closely related to the socioeconomic character of its area of influence," it states. "As population and relative income grow, there is generally a corresponding growth in the numbers of registered and based aircrafts."
Other indirect factors that influence the airport include governmental services, commercial activities, industrial development efforts and tourism.
This dip in aircraft movements is not uncommon either. The plan shows varying fluctuation in total operations over the years since 1960, ranging anywhere from 15,000 operations in 1960 to 108,500 in 1971 and 1972.
The decrease in flights is a national trend, Smith and Craft said.
The number of aircraft movements at the Jefferson City Memorial Airport is increasing gradually now that the economy has picked up and there is an increase in interested pilots, Craft said. Since 2010, the airport has seen an increase from 25,200 aircraft movements to 32,678 in 2017, according to the airport's traffic count.
Accommodating business and corporate aircraft
Of the 56,000 total operations in 1993, 64 percent were itinerant operations — those that arrived from outside the airport's area or leaves the airport's area after takeoff. This is common at airports similar to the Jefferson City Memorial Airport because of high levels of business, governmental and corporate aircraft use, the master plan notes.
As the number of military aircraft decreased after the Missouri Army National Guard aviation facility moved, the number of corporate aircraft increased, something the contractors couldn't have expected in the early 1990s, Craft and Smith said.
Of the more than 32,600 aircraft movements in 2017, Craft estimated at least 50 percent were for businesses and corporations.
Many people overlook the business and corporate flights aspect of the Jefferson City Memorial Airport, Smith said, which is something the airport's administration wants to change.
Chip Gentry, a co-founder of Jefferson City's Call & Gentry Law Group, said he flies about 20 hours total a month for business. Call & Gentry Law Group decided to use the Jefferson City Memorial Airport for time and efficiency. It also allows the attorneys to do business without being pulled away from their families for long periods of time.
"If you're in a business and you've got four people you've got to move from here to Jasper, Indiana, the only way to get to Jasper, Indiana, is to drive 14 hours round-trip or to go to a major hub and fly to Indianapolis, get a rental car and drive two-and-a-half hours, while Jefferson City Flying Services has a variety of charter planes available that can be used," said Gentry, a former Jefferson City Airport Advisory Committee member. "When you look at the dollar cost average for travel and expenses and hotel stays and rental cars and the gas to get to and from the commercial airports and the time drain, general aviation actually can be very cost effective."
The Jefferson City Flying Services is a full-service, fixed-base operator at the local airport, which provides services like providing aircraft rental and maintenance, working on avionics and providing flight instruction.
The Jefferson City Memorial Airport provides more than a $20 million economic impact to the region, according to a 2013 Missouri Department of Transportation study.
The plan also called for upgrades to the facilities, such as acquiring some nearby land, implementing new runway lights, overlaying the two runways and adding more hangar space, which Craft said the airport accomplished. The Jefferson City Memorial Airport also redid its main runway in 2015 and made it thicker to accommodate for more corporate flights.
Craft emphasized master plans are only guidelines, not set in stone. At times the plan does not foresee certain events like economic recessions or a boom in a particular niche, like corporate flights in the Jefferson City Memorial Airport's case.
The plan also does not take into account limited funding, Craft said. If the funding is not available, that pushes projects back.
The total improvements were estimated at nearly $13.7 million, with FAA grants paying more than $8 million of that cost, the community fronting about $5.2 million and the state covering the remaining costs.
Steering toward future plans
The 1992 master plan noted that when moving forward, the airport should be a source of "community pride."
"Jefferson City is fortunate to have an excellent airport facility in terms of land available for terminal expansion, runways and taxiways, navigational aids, etc.; however, along with this comes the task and responsibility for maintaining, for effectively administering, and for programming improvements to the facility," it states.
As part of the new master plan, Jviation will look at not only the airport's traffic goals but also areas for expansions and improvements.
Two of Smith's and Craft's top priorities are constructing more hangar space, as they are at capacity and constructing an updated or new control tower. Gentry said he hopes the master plan will include updates to the facilities and equipment, along with added amenities like more meeting spaces.
The Airport Advisory Committee earlier this year said they hoped Jviation includes in the updated master plan ways to better market the airport. While the Jefferson City Memorial Airport hosts events throughout the year, like the Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour last fall and the upcoming American Barnstormers July 5-7, members said the community often forgets about the airport.
The community occasionally is reminded of the Jefferson City Memorial Airport when it sees headlines of government officials using it or if something disastrous occurs, Gentry said, giving the public a misperception of the local airport.
"I think it's a circular challenge because, number one, for most folks it's out of sight, out of mind, so they don't think about it," Gentry said. "When they do think about it, there's a headline in a newspaper that says the governor's flown a private aircraft or there's been an incident or something like that so people have a misperceived conception that general aviation is just for giant businesses and the wealthy, but it's actually quite accessible."
Craft said he hopes the new master plan will look at ways to market the airport's location since it is located in the middle of Missouri; in the state capital; and near a river, highway interchange and railroad. He added the new plan also may lay out ways to market and expand the Jefferson City Flying Services' services and flight instruction school.