Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport
“For the last few years, I have been trying to raise interest in aviation, while at the same time improving the Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport,” says Rick Fuellner, Airport Manager. “This is a quiet area, but we still have some coal mining and three power plants in the county. Those, and the Indiana Regional Medical Center account for most of our corporate traffic.”
In support of the airports vision to be a valued community member, they have been working to develop STEM programming with the school board, trade schools, and community college to develop a curriculum that will be run out of the airport and will teach aeronautics as a trade. This also means bringing the flight school, Innovative Aviation, on board. Fuellner reports, “We have reached out for some grant money and [we] are going to be using that for infrastructure, but more specifically, we are going to be bringing in a full-motion flight simulator that the students will have access to. I think it will be an amazing addition to the flight school and their operation.”
The foundation for future economic and community growth at the Jimmy Stewart Airport has become visible within the last few years. “One of the things that I am really excited about,” says Fuellner, “is that we now have a café’ on site. They are going to be serving breakfast and lunch and are open from 7am to 2pm. We are in an area of town where you have to drive a few miles to get something to eat, or even a cup of coffee, so this is going to be a bonus for folks on this end of town.
The physical footprint of the airport is also changing. One significant infrastructure project underway is are updates to the airport taxiways that will bring the airport into compliance with new FAA regulations. Previously, access went directly from the hangars to the runway, and this would potentially cause encroachment issues. Last year saw the creation of a self-service fuel farm which opened on the 31st of December, 2020. This has certainly boosted fuel sales as well as stopovers after hours. A pilot lounge on-site with a key card entry system makes it very easy for transient pilots to stop. Last year, the airport also got a new aviation maintenance facility up and running. Advanced AeroWorks and Avionics, owned and operated by the same person that owns the flight school, has brought the services available at Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport to a whole new level.
All of this comes during the second phase of re-working the airport master plan. Fuellner admits that they are jumping the gun a bit when opportunities arise, but it is all working together to create a bright future. The master plan will see many infrastructure improvements, including much-needed hangar development. They have begun the process of building a new 100 by 120 corporate hangar, but more general aviation T-hangars are coming up after that and then perhaps another smaller corporate hangar. The waiting list starts to fill up as soon as the plans are announced. There is plenty of room for more development, even for a jump school that Fuellner is hoping to bring on site.
He notes, “Our Experimental Aviation Group has taken off as well. They are developing a new program to try and get people interested in aviation through the building, or rebuilding, of an aircraft. We have enough talented people on the field when it comes to the EA chapter and instructors and the flight school and the maintenance facility here that all these people have agreed and have a vested interest in the program. We have two airplanes that have been offered, one is an old Taylorcraft and the other is an experimental airplane. We are also going to have a dedicated spot in one of our hangars for the construction.”
For Fuellner, it is all about positioning the airport as a community resource and trying to change the perception of the airport as a “Rich Man’s Club”. He wants people to see that an airport is a place that can be important for the whole community. In 2022, they will be having aviation summer camps for the first time, and they will also be hosting the second year of their brand-new air show, which was s big hit last summer. It is all about finding different ways to pique the interest of the consumer.
“It’s all about perception,” Fuellner admits, “and all of these events are springboards to increase usage of airport facilities and diversify revenue streams. For example, we have popcorn and hotdogs on Saturdays now, for example, and people will fly in to get some – it is just the simple stuff that makes a difference. We have also added a 5K race this year to our air show as a charity event for our local food bank. It was wildly successful, and I heard runners say they came out to be in it just to get to run on the runway. Just something original that went over really well.”
Looking to the future, Fuellner adds, “The biggest thing that I want to see is the runway rehabilitation. It would be nice to increase the pavement strength so that we can land almost anything. And then probably my second biggest thing is going to be a stand-alone restaurant to attract evening dinner traffic. At the end of the day, we are driven by a vision to build a local airport that offers amenities that enhances and brings our community together.”