FAA awards Easton’s airport general aviation designation

FAA awards Easton’s airport general aviation designation

By TONY RUSSO Business Editor | Posted: Monday, June 11, 2012 1:00 am

EASTON When Mike Henry started as manager of the Easton Airport nine years ago, one of the things that most impressed him was the standards to which its facility and operations plans aspired. General Aviation (GA) airports have not traditionally been split into different tiers by standards and services.

Because the Easton Airport serves so many sectors, from various sizes of corporate and recreational jets to smaller planes for leisure and educational use, they decided to use the standards major airports use and strive to meet them. It was a decision that paid off both in improved service and image for the airport. Moreover, it was a decision that recently won the acknowledgment from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA has named Easton Airport one of 84 national GA airports in the country. GA airports are those that don’t have regularly scheduled flights, but that is the only thing many of the more than 2,900 of them have in common.

"If you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport," Henry said. He is fond of the saying because it’s a glib way of emphasizing not only how different they all look but also how varied are their operations. The Easton Airport’s decision, then, to choose to model its operational standards after larger airports resulted in one of only a few GA airports that meets the standards set for major airports.

This resulted in safety as well as aesthetic improvements. Easton Airport has, for example, special fuel containment systems built into its truck parking lots. They house a Maryland State Police barrack and have constant 911 emergency monitoring. The only substantive criteria it does not meet when compared to a major airport is that it lacks a fire station on site.

Henry said Easton’s proximity to the Baltimore and Washington population centers, coupled with its access to recreational areas, also means that the people who use it have particular expectations. It was by combining what their regular customers expect from an airport with what the FAA expects from larger airports that Easton was able to distinguish itself.

A national GA airport, according to the newly developed FAA criteria, "Supports the national and state system by providing communities with access to national and international markets in multiple states and throughout the United States."

Henry said Easton is a regular departure place for Europe-bound jets and an obvious connecting point for national markets.

The airport now has 166 airplanes and 21 jets housed in more than 100 hangars around the property. It is also home to more than 30 businesses that employ 170 people. Off property, it allows the kind of access to the world allowing international businesses as well as regional and national businesses to reach the markets they need to reach and to be reached by.

Talking about the access gives Henry another opportunity to use an airport saying: "If you build a mile of road, you can go a mile. If you build a mile of runway you can go anywhere."

He likens the network of airports to the interstate highway system, pointing out that the Easton Airport’s primary strength is the way in which it is able to promote commerce.

The presence of the airport also makes the area attractive for private jet owners looking for places to live or to entertain. The quality of the local airport can have significant implications for potential buyers.

"We provide access," Henry said. "I’ve had real estate agents say we’re one of the best partners they have."

Being designated a national airport is more than an honorarium, though, Henry said. As the FAA budget tightens and decisions about which projects to fund and which must be put off, Easton Airport is not much closer to the top of the list.

"We’ve been self-sufficient since 1994," Henry said. "Not a single county dollar goes into the airport."

Likewise, he said, the FAA isn’t supported by taxpayers. They are funded instead by jet fuel, ticket and cargo taxes.

Henry said the airport master plan calls for more accommodations for jets and planes as well as expanding or replacing campus buildings. He talked about several recent environmentally motivated changes they have made and how they will continue to work to be good stewards as well as good neighbors.

Although Henry said he was not counting on getting a great deal of capital funds any time soon, he also was not planning on the FAA deciding to rate GA airports. The key is to be prepared so that when the business or growth opportunities present themselves, the Easton Airport is ready to take advantage of them.

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