Southend Corporate Airpark, cont’d

Aurora State Airport

Aurora State Airport

Mr. Wenrich mentioned some of the other factors driving the success at Aurora and Southend. These include the tax advantages in Oregon, which has no state sales tax and no personal property tax on aircraft, and there are no landing fees and no port fees at KUAO.

A number of high-profile companies providing high-paying jobs to the community call Aurora home. Van’s Aircraft, the world’s largest kit-plane manufacturer, has been present on the field since 2000. Columbia Helicopters and Helicopter Transport Services are two of the largest rotary-wing operators in the world. (As a side note, in 2009 Aurora was designated as Wes Lematta Field in honor of the founder of Columbia Helicopters.) Columbia provides lift service to the forestry, construction, and petroleum industries as well as disaster relief and firefighting. Helicopter Transport Services provides heavy lift capabilities for the same types of industries.

More companies located at KUAO are: FLIR Systems, which designs and develops thermal and visible-light imaging technologies; Wilson Construction Company, specializing in towers and lines for electric transmission and distribution; Metal Innovations Inc., an industry leader in sheet metal and composite materials for the fixed- and rotor-wing markets; Keystone Aviation, the factory distributor for Daher-Socata in the Pacific Northwest region and maintenance services for Piper, Cirrus, Hawker, and Cessna aircraft.

LifeFlight Network utilizes both rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft as well as ground vehicles, has both its corporate and operational headquarters on the field, and is the country’s largest non-profit air ambulance service; and Centrex Construction Inc., mentioned above as the general contractor for Southend Airpark.

Aurora Jet Center

Aurora Jet Center

Three FBOs on the field are available for fuel: Aurora Jet Center provides jet-A and 100 LL fueling (100LL self-serve available 24 hours), water, lavatory service, and oxygen; Aurora Aviation also provides flight training to lower-middle level students; and Willamette Aviation brings enthusiasm to the training of entry-level pilots.

All of the companies just mentioned, as well as hangar owners at Southend, are members of either the Aurora Airport Owners’ Association or the Southend Condo Owners’ Association. The two groups support each other and cooperate on marketing.

The Columbia Aviation Association (CAA) plays a pivotal role in keeping the local pilot community engaged and enthusiastic. Every Thursday, as many as 80 folks gather in its clubhouse on the field for a social hour, dinner, and a guest speaker. It also hosts fly-outs and other events to provide numerous opportunities for camaraderie for those with a love of aviation and flying.

The CAA, the Owners’ Accociation, PAAM, and the Chamber of Commerce all work together to continually publicize and emphasize the positive impact that KUAO has on the area. Land sales and fuel sales combined make KUAO the most profitable general aviation airport in Oregon.

The surrounding area includes some of Oregon’s best golf courses, tax-free outlet and antique shopping, as well as a world-class equestrian and dressage industry. Oregon Horse Country is the premier voice of the equine industry, and brings passion, exposure, and marketing to all things equine in Oregon.

KUAO is only about a 20-minute drive south of Portland, with its commercial air connections, larger population center, and the location of Nike, Intel, and other large corporations with executives seeking a more relaxed setting from which to travel.

Mr. Wenrich left us with some final thoughts. “Southend is a unique, custom corporate airpark with first-class hangar facilities. We view this development as an incredible opportunity to support the surrounding community by providing not only high-end airside services and amenities, but also high-paying jobs whose payrolls filter down through the rest of the economy to support families and local services such as schools, roads, firefighting, and police. The fee simple model, corporate access, the intangibles – this is a place where executives can feel like they deserve it and they don’t have to compromise with their land. It is a safe haven, a very fun community, unique economic oasis, and very inspiring. You own the land, you own the hangar.”

After hearing about the airport, the airpark, and the community, and thoroughly enjoying our conversation with Mr. Wenrich, we couldn’t agree more.

Why would airports want to become self-sustaining?

We mentioned the idea of self-sustaining airports at the beginning of this article, and now we’ll try to put some perspective on the issue.

Historically, the vast majority of airports in the US were begun as military airfields during the 1920s and 1930s when they were purchased or leased by the federal government for pilot training and aircraft development in support of war efforts.

Following World War II the War Assets Administration returned almost all such fields to their host cities, counties, or other public entities at little or no cost, with the stipulation, however, that those entities would continue to operate the fields as airports and the federal government helped to offset the cost of their maintenance and improvements through what in 1982 became the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

The AIP is presently funded by user fees, fuel taxes and similar revenue sources. It was and is the FAA’s intention to preserve the country’s aviation infrastructure by helping cities maintain and improve their airports through a grant-in-aid process which in return, obligated cities to affirm that those properties would continue to be operated as airports and maintain them under safe and serviceable condition, and mitigate hazards, in perpetuity in most cases. Such affirmations are known as “grant assurances” in FAA and legal parlance.

One of the other conditions of the AIP is that participating airports are constrained in what they can do with their land. It is possible to sell off airport land but only with FAA approval, and such approval will happen under certain conditions, primarily a) the land sale will not adversely affect any aspect of aviation operations and b) the public agency that operates the airport must demonstrate that they will benefit economically by the sale.

If an airport operator is able to sell some of its land not directly being used for aviation operations, and enable a through-the-fence operator to purchase the land for locating a business, the airport would realize a double stream of revenue by virtue of the sale as well as through fuel sales and usage fees by the business.

This type of land sale by the airport is subject to FAA scrutiny and as such, would virtually assure that any business under consideration would be aviation friendly, and the airport would be obliged to provide certainties that measures related to safety, insurance, security, and management of those areas comply with grant assurances that the airport is subject to.

The situation at Aurora Airport in Oregon is a great example of what is possible through a public-private partnership that occurs when the airport sells land to a business for the purpose of a through-the-fence operation. The airport realizes revenue from the sale as well as continued use of airport fuel by the businesses. In this way it is possible for the airport to gradually wean itself off of dependence on AIP funds.

KUAO is certainly seeing the revenue benefits of its fee-simple land model and the development of Southend Airpark. Its master plan calls for the runway to be extended by 1000 feet to the south, which Mr. Wenrich says will provide another big stimulus to the economy. In addition, the airport is getting a brand spanking-new air traffic control tower, which in recent times is a rare occurrence particularly for an airport which previously never had a tower.

We are very encouraged by the progress occurring at KUAO and are excited to let others in the aviation community know that yes! there is land for sale at some airports. In fact Southend Airpark has another 200,000 square feet of it that is shovel-ready for a build-to-suit buyer.

We look forward to hearing from Mr. Wenrich in the future as more hangars are sold and great things continue to happen at Southend Airpark and Aurora Airport.

Interested parties can contact Jon Wenrich at Southend Airpark at 503.678.6200 or by visiting Southend Corporate Airpark at www.southendcorporateairpark.com

-Mike Straka, PhD
HN Staff Writer & Technical Support
Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

Sources:
1.  Telephone interview with Mr. Jon Wenrich. 24 April 2015.
2.  “Flightlines”  Oregon Department of Aviation, Fall 2006. http://www.oregon.gov/Aviation/docs/Fall_2006.pdf