Small airports throughout the nation are in danger of being closed down, but many are working hard to ensure that the Spanish Fork Airport not only stays open, but experiences widespread growth by embarking on a multi-million dollar business park that will house the airport.
This type of thing is unheard of, especially given the downward trend in private aviation nationwide.
In fact, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recently reported that out of the airports closed over the past 15 years, nearly all have been privately owned.
The reasoning for the closures vary. Multiple reports point to a shortage in regional pilots and pilots in general. The New York Times recently reported that due to a shortage in pilots, there have been fewer flights, and as a result, flights to smaller airports have been cut.
There are also other factors that may be contributing to this downward trend. The AOPA pointed toward land developers and other organizations and individuals with vested interest in the land.
“It could be that a private developer has made an airport owner an offer he or she can’t refuse,” the AOPA article said. “Perhaps the owner of the airport was passionate about general aviation, but has passed away and his/her heirs do not share that passion. Frequently, the property a privately owned airport sits on is much more valuable for uses other than an airport. The issue could be property taxes, or land-use pressures from the surrounding community, but the bottom line is that the airport property is privately owned, and as such, they can pretty much do what they wish with it.”
The article outlined the differences between private and public airports being mainly just that: That private airports are privately funded and federal airports are federally funded.
Smaller, private airports also cater to private personal flying, business aircraft, and pilot training, known as General Aviation.
The Spanish Fork Airport has stayed open largely due to airport managers who are passionate about general aviation. Former manager Cris Child is a small airplane pilot and general aviation enthusiast, and new airport manager, Christian Davis follows in his footsteps as a private pilot and fellow general aviation supporter. These people along with the Spanish Fork Airport Board have won the respect and support of the Spanish Fork City Council for airport growth and development.
Unfortunately, there are currently no available hangars (aircraft storage spaces) at the Spanish Fork Airport or any other airport in Utah, making it difficult to store airplanes. Public airports do lease land to tenants to build hangers and aviation business offices, with the lease being about 20 years long to enable financing. After the lease expires, however, the building reverts to the landowner, which does not encourage building airport hangers.
To remedy the problem, Spanish Fork City has approved a 50-year lease period that allows the building to be bought by the municipality at the end of its lease for its market value. This arrangement encourages hangar and aviation business development.
In this environment the Patey Aviation Business Park in Spanish Fork has been approved to move ahead with its building plans with groundbreaking occurring this spring. The 120-million-dollar project will include 650,000 square feet of hangar space developed into 130 hangars of various sizes to accommodate general aviation aircraft. Each hangar complex will have a common luxury lounge area for pilots and passengers.
Additionally, the aviation business park will include an aircraft service business, known to aviators as a Fixed Base Operator (FBO). This business will provide aircraft fuel, a pilot lounge for transient pilots, weather briefing room, and a conference room. The building will also include an upscale restaurant with plenty of patio seating right at the landing zone of the runway. This will be a fun place that the entire Spanish Fork community will enjoy. Other businesses proposed to move to the aviation park will be full aircraft maintenance, an aircraft radio or avionics shop, a paint shop and a flight school. The entire project will take 2½ – 3 years to complete. This is a massive project that will include 1.1 million square feet of new taxiway and ramp area.
The design of Patey Aviation Business Park is intended to create an aviation community. The plan includes hosting a monthly gathering for FAA approved safety meetings and other aviation topics. This will enable pilots, future pilots, and non-pilots to get acquainted with one another. The stated goal is to create the best place in the country for general aviation, right here in Spanish Fork, Utah.