Hays Regional Airport and Rooks County Regional Airport will be busier than usual Friday.
More than 40 private planes are scheduled to fly into the airports as part of the sixth annual Fly Kansas Air Tour sponsored by the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The idea is to promote aviation to students interested in science, technology, engineering and math, and the state’s general aviation airports to pilots.
“We’re expecting in the area of 200 students from Plainville, Stockton and Palco,” said Roger Hrabe, director of economic development for Rooks County.
The 5,000-foot-long and 75-foot-wide concrete runway at Rooks County Regional Airport allows Rooks County Health Center to charter jets and fly in specialists from Colorado to treat patients with the hospital’s medical staff, which includes family medicine physician Daniel Sanchez.
“We have Dr. Sanchez coming out to talk to the students for about 10 minutes about the importance of aviation to the hospital,” Hrabe said.
The tour will arrive Friday morning at the Rooks County airport, which is 5 miles south of Stockton and 7 miles north of Plainville, just off US-183 highway.
The tour will arrive at Hays Regional Airport about 3:15 p.m., said Jamie Salter, airport manager.
The Kansas Highway Patrol, which has aircraft based at the city-owned Hays airport, will hold an educational session about the KHP’s airborne police services to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Besides commercial jets providing scheduled daily passenger service to Denver and Chicago from the Hays Regional Airport, there are also 39 private aircraft based there, said Salter.
On any given day, anywhere from 10 to 40 planes land at the airport, said Chris Springer, general manager of Hays Aircraft LLC, the airport’s fixed-base operator. Hays Aircraft provides everything from fueling and repair work to charter flight service and flight instruction.
Owned by the Crotts family out of Dodge City, Hays Aircraft has been at the airport since 2003.
“It certainly feels like general aviation is picking up, we’ve got more students training now than we have in the past,” Springer said. “There are more airplanes coming to the field. I think some of the local businessmen are seeing the advantage of owning your own airplane to get around to their different locations.”
The city’s 14 box and T-hangars are fully leased. There is also ground available for constructing additional private hangars, according to Salter, who said there is a waiting list of aircraft owners interested in leasing ground to build.
Springer cited the need for more space.
“We’re at the tipping point, I would say, where we have as many airplanes as we do hangar space,” he said. "And as more people buy airplanes or they want to move their airplanes here, we’re not going to have the hangar space, so we need to have the locations available for people to build hangars themselves.”
Hays Aircraft leases five of the city’s hangars, Springer said, one for its own repair shop and the others subleased to owners for either based or transient aircraft.
Traffic at the airport includes medical flights for HaysMed, as well as UPS overnight package delivery; charter flights for travelers to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean or even just a football game; as well as business travelers in their own aircraft; students taking flying lessons; pleasure aircraft; or Midwest Energy for scouting downed power lines.
“That’s another reason it’s so critical that we have the airport open in every weather condition we can,” Springer said. “We’re the only ones with the Highway Patrol stationed here, so when there is a tornado goes through somewhere, or if there is a blizzard somewhere, we need someone out there looking for stranded motorists. That’s going to be the highway patrol out there, so we need the airport open.”
The Rooks County Airport and Hays Regional Airport will see improvements in the coming months.
Rooks County’s airport, which opened in 2012 and includes a terminal, has four private hangars and one county-owned hangar for temporary rental, Hrabe said.
Paul-Wertenberger Construction Inc., Hays, is scheduled to start work this fall on a 40-by-40 snow removal equipment building. Ninety percent of the funding for the $257,000 building will come from a Federal Aviation Administration grant.
“We don’t have the snow equipment yet,” Hrabe said. “We can’t purchase that until next year. We do things as money becomes available.”
With a runway long enough to handle a Learjet and King Air, Hrabe said the airport is useful for business travelers needing a long runway, like the ones who come from Joplin, Mo., to get to Phillipsburg.
“Pilots like the ease of getting in and out of our airport, because you don’t have the commercial traffic,” he said. “You can fly in and out as you please; it’s just less complicated.”
The Hays airport is adding new snow removal equipment. Some $270,000 in equipment includes a dump truck and 16-foot front-mounted plow. Funded largely with an FAA grant, the city’s share will be $27,100.