The City Council soon will consider an important recommendation to study Keene’s Dillant-Hopkins Airport. That, combined with the news that the airport will have a new director shortly, are moves of great interest and, perhaps, promise.
The airport has been a bit of an enigma to the region — big enough to support all manner of planes but located in a region that limits its attractiveness for any sort of meaningful commercial traffic. As a destination or home for private and corporate plane owners and some charter business, it’s hard to beat, but as a commercial flight center, the airport is sort of betwixt and between, if you will.
First the study.
The Airport Development and Marketing Committee, headed by Chairman Curt Hansen and Co-chair Beth Bendel, owner of Monadnock Aviation, has proposed to the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee hiring an Illinois firm to analyze the potential for commercial airline passenger service at the Swanzey airport. The finance committee looks at the recommendation Thursday, and if the City Council approves it, the cost is expected to be under $35,000, an amount already included in the airport’s 2020 budget.
Crawford, Murphy & Tilly (CMT), engineering consultants based in Springfield, Ill., have substantial airport redevelopment experience, including work at Midway Airport outside of Chicago, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Blue Grass Airport in Kentucky, and the firm did a master plan for the National Science Foundation’s airfield in Antarctica. In addition to engineering services, CMT is a planning company whose skill sets and background suggest a good fit to explore expanding Keene’s underutilized airport.
Some of CMT’s work has been at smaller facilities, including a project in Lee’s Summit, Mo., which has a municipally owned general aviation airport. A key component to the plans there included adding a 1,500-foot runway extension, bringing their main runway to 5,500 feet to accommodate jets, according to an article in trade magazine Airport World. This would not be needed here since the Keene airport features a 6,200-foot runway gem.
The second major development was the addition of two 14-unit hangars. Other capital improvements are planned. To be fair, at just under 100,000 population, Lee’s Summit is much larger than Keene, but the issues that community had to iron out — noise complaints, uncertainty about how to maximize its airport and costs — were the same as are faced here.
Second, the director.
David Hickling succeeds Jack Wozmak and comes to Keene following his most recent stint as commissioner of aviation at the Greater Binghamton Airport in upstate New York. Hickling started his aviation career in the U.S. Air Force, where he was stationed at Pease Air Force Base. He brings experience with fixed-base operations (essentially support services and businesses that cater to aviation and pilots), flight instruction and charter operations. These would seem to be ideal skills to move the airport forward.
Hickling’s background also includes a B.S. in aviation management from Hawthorn College and graduate work in aviation management at Embry Riddle School of Aeronautics, one of the leading aviation institutions in the country.
We hope that with all this he brings innovative thinking on ways to leverage the airport. It won’t be easy. When readers of USA Today were asked about their favorite small airports in the United States, among the top 10 for this past year are Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Paine Field in Everett, Wash., and T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. These are all small airports, to be sure, but were able to leverage their locations as alternatives to bigger and busier airports.
When private pilots are asked similar questions, according to the website www.inflightpilottraining.com, they cite destinations near resorts, such as Grand Canyon National Airport, Bald Mountain Airport in Camden, Maine, along with airports in Aspen, Colo., and Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Nonetheless, it seems, with these two recent announcements, that Dillant-Hopkins Airport is on an appealing flight path, one that perhaps can establish for itself a more valuable and prosperous regional role.