With construction of a new terminal underway, a local committee hopes the public will understand the economic impact of Fremont Municipal Airport on the community.
And that residents realize the need for another structure designed to attract business to Fremont.
“Our airport is definitely the gateway to the community that fosters economic development,” said Eric Johnson, member of the Airport Advisory Board.
Johnson cites a Nebraska Aviation Counts study! Team regarding the economic impact of the local airport on the community.
The study indicates that Fremont Airport generates $10.5 million in goods and services from airport-related activities and supports more than 90 airport-related jobs. The payroll for these jobs is more than $2.6 million.
Local airport services include aircraft maintenance, restoration and rental, flight training, a fuel depot and hangar rental. Planes take off from the local airport to spray crops.
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Fremont Aviation is under contract as a fixed base operator and provides various services at the airport owned by the City of Fremont.
Fremont Airport has a 6,350 foot by 100 foot main runway that can accommodate corporate jets.
Major companies such as Costco, Walmart, Menards and Lincoln Premium Poultry land at the airport. Midland University uses the airport. Airport-based Taylor & Martin uses it extensively, Johnson said.
People who come to Fremont stay in hotels, rent cars, and eat in restaurants here.
“It all really adds up into one big impact,” he said.
Johnson cites the importance of an airport to business — especially large corporations looking to locate in a certain community — thereby creating jobs in that city.
Former Fremont City administrator Brian Newton previously summed up the situation.
“Businesses might not set up shop or stay here without an airport,” he said.
Johnson explained why airports like Fremont are important for business.
“You can go to any chamber (of commerce) in the state, and when a business-like business wants to come into your community, the airport is often very important to them,” Johnson said.
Large companies, not wanting to deal with delays from commercial airlines, have their own planes.
“Big corporations, when they look at a community, want to send their executives and staff to the city,” Johnson said. “They don’t want to take the bus. They don’t want to wait for the airlines.
They don’t want to fly to Omaha or Lincoln and drive a car to Fremont.
“It’s all based on a time-is-money formula,” Johnson said. “You can take a large company that has multiple facilities or branches to visit across the country. They can fly this (in a corporate jet) in a day instead of taking three or four days on the airlines and so it really becomes a time management issue.
Johnson noted something else.
“The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has rated our airport as one of the best airports in the state for its connection to the entire Nebraska aviation system and nationally,” Johnson said.
Fremont Airport has a decades-old history.
In 1940, John Siems accepted the position of manager of the airport’s fixed base operator. He and his father built a two-stall hangar on an 80-acre stubble field, where the current airport is located.
The current terminal was built in 1964 and is obsolete. The facility needs new heating and air conditioning systems and other upgrades. Johnson said the building is not handicapped accessible.
Work on the new airport terminal is expected to be completed in February. The $1.7 million project will be built entirely with local financing.
The terminal will include a forward area, a lounge where pilots can report and rest, and a conference room. Johnson said community organizations will be able to use the conference room.
Dave Goedeken, the city’s director of public works, said the terminal will also have three unfurnished offices available for rent.
At a 2020 airport board meeting, member Bill Dugan made a historical comparison regarding the importance of an airport terminal due to business traffic.
“I hope people realize the revenue and business he generates and what he does for the community,” Dugan said. “It’s your railroad terminal from 100 years ago, so you have to have it or you don’t exist.”
Board members also talked about the need for a corporate shed, which, less expenses, was estimated at $1.6 million.
Johnson said company personnel might stay overnight in Fremont and want their plane, which can cost between $10 million and $40 million, stored.
He previously told the Tribune that a corporate jet had arrived on business and landed on the runway at Fremont Airport.
An ice storm occurred and the jet froze on the plane’s apron, as there was no hangar large enough to store it.
“He sat here for a week before he was able to thaw him out,” Johnson said.
If there had been a hangar that could have housed the plane, it could have left the airport the next day, Johnson said, adding that such situations are not good for the community.
Board members also highlighted the importance of having the hangar for a workshop and workspace for Fremont Aviation, which provides aircraft maintenance and fuel.
Johnson said Fremont Aviation works in a smaller hangar that doesn’t accommodate many business jets requiring their services.
Fremont Aviation President Jim Kjeldgaard also said there was no room to expand the current maintenance hangar.
He told the Tribune that the maintenance shed is about ½ mile from the new terminal.
Board members wondered about possible sources of funding for the corporate hangar.
At a recent meeting, Goedeken said he stood by the board’s decision to have a corporate hangar, but there was no money for airport projects in the City of Fremont Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23. The council removed the airport projects from the budget for those years.
Kjeldgaard wondered if the city could apply for grants for the airport as it has done for other projects.
Johnson said funding sources could include a $700,000 interest-free loan from the Hangar Loan Program through the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Aerospace Division.
He said there may be limited federal funds for aviation.
The FAA also provides funds to airports through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act. These funds can be invested in runways, taxiways, safety and sustainability projects as well as terminals, airport transit links and road projects.
“We don’t have any idea, right now, if sheds are going to qualify for this or if they’re going to stick with pavement rehabilitation and things like that,” Johnson said.
Johnson pointed out that the aeronautics division of the FAA or the Nebraska Department of Transportation for airport projects comes from taxes on aviation users, such as a percentage of aviation fuel sales and not local taxes.
In the future, the airport committee would like to see more hangars built for small planes.
“We have a lot of interest from residents of West Omaha and surrounding areas who want to put their planes in Fremont, simply because of our great facilities,” Johnson said. “We have a good FBO (fixed base operator) Fremont Aviation, where a lot of airports aren’t lucky enough to have that.”
Funding for those hangars should come from the state loan program and possibly FAA funds, he said.
Johnson stresses the need to modernize the airport, which can create jobs.
“It ties into the growth of the community,” he said.