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EAA Helps Hoosiers Preserve Hometown Airport

February 21, 2008 — In May 2007, aviation enthusiasts including a number of EAAers in the Anderson, Indiana, area caught word of a feasibility study being done in a nearby community for constructing a new airport. At first glance, it sounded like a good thing, until it was discovered that part of the plan for the new airport was closing two others, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport (UMP) in Fishers and Anderson Municipal Airport (AID).

That just wouldn't fly with the local aviation community who use Anderson, including EAA Chapter 226, which has its monthly meetings and other activities at AID. The Anderson Airport Support Group (AASG), originally formed to help with volunteer work, maintenance and clean-up duties at the airport, began to educate the public that AID is a valuable community asset - with or without a new county airport project.

Ron Smith, longtime EAAer, Chapter 226 newsletter editor, and AASG member, explained that he sought advice from people like Randy Hansen, EAA government relations director; Jack Tunstill, who led a successful campaign several years ago to save and revitalize Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida; and Jeremy Monnett, CEO Sonex Aircraft, LLC, who led the successful development of the Oshkosh Chamber Aviation Committee that was able to greatly enhance the regional economic impact of Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. "They gave us a lot of good advice on how to get things rolling," he said.

"When Ron called EAA asking for support, we quickly determined that if his effort was to be successful he needed to understand the lessons learned from previous successful airport actions," Hansen said. "It takes a community-wide effort to save an airport. While the members of the AASG were the committed 'boots-on-the-ground' forces for this effort, the total aviation community-wide support provided the keys to success."

So AASG members organized presentations, wrote newspaper editorials, attended Town Hall meetings and other events and activities. "We'd meet with anyone who would talk to us and otherwise promote the airport in any we could," he said.

One of the stronger points favoring AID was its positive economic impact: Net cost to the city to support the airport is about $200,000 per year, but the airport generates about $7.8 million of economic impact, according to a 2005 Aviation Association of Indiana study.

"We stressed that the airport is actually a great investment, and that we really ought to be investing more in it," Smith said. These and other facts put forth by AASG began to gain traction in both the community and among some candidates in last year's city elections. The airport eventually developed into a key election issue, one which mayoral candidate Kris Ockomon embraced and used to help him unseat the incumbent.

"The new mayor credits us with being big part of his victory," Smith said. "He has declared the new airport a 'dead issue' and has vowed to support and revitalize the new airport."

The mayor replaced the entire Board of Aviation Commissioners (BOAC), which oversaw operations at AID but was largely seen as not very supportive of the facility. A sub-committee of AASG has been meeting every week to help their airport follow in the footsteps of St. Petersburg. "We are not ready to declare victory yet, but we can see it from here," Smith said.

Note: Ron Smith was pictured on the cover of the September 2002 edition of Sport Aviation, flying his Burt Rutan homebuilt design, the VariViggen.

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