Poplar Bluff, MO (KAIT) - Officials with the Poplar Bluff Municipal Airport told Region 8 News Monday operations have been smooth since the departure of Aeroflite Incorporated, which was the city's long-time flight-based operator (FBO). Due to economic reasons, Aeroflite did not renew a contract with the city, according to airport officials. Ever since, the city of Poplar Bluff has taken full control of its airport.
"Unfortunately partnerships end and they moved on and so the city of Poplar Bluff is taking over," said Mike Smith, Airport Manager.
Smith said the city had a good working relationship with Aeroflite, even after it left southeast Missouri. However, the city became responsible for maintenance, rental flights and pilot training. Previously, the city allowed the FBO to handle those responsibilities.
"This was a new operation for us at the city. We had a real good FBO and we're just trying to keep doing the good services they did," said Smith.
Over the last several years, the airport, using money from the Missouri Department of Transportation and FAA, has made vast improvements. It has repaired its 5,000 foot runway, widened the taxiways and installed 2 new 12,000 gallon fuel pumps.
"Some of our small airports don't have that. We have that. We have full service. Like if you pull up here, we wait on you. You don't have to spill gasoline all over you," said Smith.
The airport hopes to grow with the Poplar Bluff community. Right now, the facility has 37 planes on its airfield. The airport includes 32 hangars.
"We're hoping in the near future that we can build some new hangers, because we have people wanting to rent hangars and want to learn to fly," said Smith.
"We have several projects and we're getting our new taxiway out here to the north, which will probably be done by the end of this month," said Smith. "There are so many aviation fields and places to buy from. We were trying to get used to that and what to do and how to do it, especially for me, but thankfully the employees that worked for Aeroflite stayed on with us."
The airport faced problems when Aeroflite left. Fuel prices were six dollars a gallon. The aviation industry was taking a dip and finding young pilots was a challenge.
"The thing I've noticed, the biggest change is there's a lack of student activity, and that's really important to a little airport like this because it brings in new blood," said Jesse Vaughn, flight instructor. "It's different but it's kind of the same at the same time. The city has stepped in and they've done a great job filling the void."
Vaughn and Shawn Berry are on the city's Airport Advisory Board. They are responsible for informing the Poplar Bluff City Council on what the airport needs and what improvements need done.
"The airport, in my opinion, is basically the doorstep or the welcome mat to the town," said Berry. "The industrial park, we have a lot of corporate executives that come in and out that use the airport and that's the first thing they see when they get here."
Berry, Smith and Vaughn said the airport is vital to the strength of the local economy. The airport handles private jets, which bring corporate executives and other industry insiders into the city.
"It brings everything into Poplar Bluff. I mean, when the people land here they buy fuel from us. We have a courtesy car we let them use to ride into town to use a restaurant or shopping area. They spend the night sometimes and then they come back so they like small airports where you can get in real easy and get out," said Smith.
"One of the decisions that they based in having a Ruby Tuesday's here was how easy it was to get in and out of the airport and how close the airport was. The airport is the first impression that a lot of people get of our city," said Vaughn.
"It means a lot, all the people come in to Poplar Bluff and they see the airport for the first time and they say, well hey, this is a nice place," said Smith.