The Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport
Business View Magazine interviews Rick Fuellner, Airport Manager at the Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport, as part of our series on regional American airports.
The Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport is a county-owned, general aviation airport located two miles east of the borough of Indiana, in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, and about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The Airport is named for Indiana’s native son, Jimmy Stewart, best known as an Academy Award-winning actor, who also served as a squadron commander in the U.S. Army Air Corps and flew 20 combat missions in Europe during World War II. He remained in the Air Force Reserve after the war, and retired in 1968 as a brigadier general.
The Indiana County Airport covers 276 acres and has one asphalt runway, measuring 5,500 X 100 feet. It is classified as a business service airport by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Aviation and is a public-use facility serving local corporate, education, and private aviation needs. The terminal building was placed into service in 1997 and provides facilities and amenities for pilots and fliers including a lounge and locker room. Located at the interchange of U.S. Route 119 and state Route 286, the Airport also gives travelers fast and direct access to other communities and neighboring counties. The Airport is also the headquarters for the Jimmy Stewart Squadron 714 of the Civil Air Patrol, which provides aviation and service training for area youths and keeps a team of fliers at the ready for emergencies such as disaster relief and search missions.
Each June, the Airport holds the Jimmy Stewart Air Show (formerly called the Jimmy Stewart Festival), which features visiting aircraft, often including World War II vintage military planes for hands-on, educational opportunities. Area pilots display their contemporary aircraft, some offering aerial tours of the Indiana area for festival goers. In addition, the airport hangar is available as a community event center and has held events such as fly-in breakfasts and a Halloween costume party to benefit the Indiana County Community Action Program (CAP). The terminal has hosted conferences and meetings for visiting dignitaries, and the Airport has been a training center for the CAP and local emergency responders.
Flanking the airfield is the Jimmy Stewart Airport Business Park, a 10-acre corporate and light industrial site offering Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone program tax incentives for developers and tenants. The Airport is only minutes away from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana Regional Medical Center, area hospitality facilities, the downtown Indiana business district, the corporate headquarters of several financial and medical businesses, and the regional offices of many energy companies. Thus, it is a prime location for regional services and others that rely on convenient air travel.
Rick Fuellner is the Airport Manager, one of four full-time employees, along with one part time, who operate the facility under the administration of the Indiana County Airport Authority, a board of nine Indiana County residents appointed by the County Board of Commissioners. “We’re almost self-sufficient,” Fuellner explains. “Our funds come from our fuel sales, our hangar rent, and from some gas wells on the property. And then the county funds my personnel, my insurances, and my vehicles – my basic operating costs.”
Today, the Airport is home to 42 GA aircraft. Some years ago, it also supported a small charter service, and Fuellner says he would like to get something of that nature back again, in order to better compete with some nearby airfields. “These other airports have the small charter and commuter flights that go to the major hubs,” he notes. “One of our big competitors, just to the south, has Spirit Airlines. And although we’re not looking to get into that type of operation where you have a major carrier, something that would work for us would be a small puddle-jumper, like a Boutique Air, or Southeast Air, or some small, single-engine turbo-prop to get from this Airport to Pittsburgh or Washington, DC.”
Another competitive challenge, according to Fuellner, is that a handful of the surrounding airports have larger runways that can support corporate operations. “That’s our biggest challenge – having the infrastructure here to support these bigger operations,” he opines. “We just recently lost our avionics shop and lost our mechanic’s facility, because both of those individuals retired, so that has had a huge effect on the traffic here. So, we’re working on trying to fill those two voids, and once that happens, we’ll be back in line with these other airports.”
Meanwhile, Fuellner reports that the Airport has plans to expand its facilities. “I’m working closely with our Center for Economic Development in Indiana, and I have plans to build a large corporate-type hangar,” he relates. “The long-range plan is to build some corporate hangars to attract some corporate business, and also build a couple of smaller hangars to attract some more general aviation, but on a bigger scale.”
“Our new flight school, Innovative Aviation, is talking about upgrading and getting a bigger fleet of aircraft, so he’s going to need another big hangar,” Fuellner continues. “I’ll encourage him to build the hangar, himself, but if he wants us to do it, we will, and then rent him the hangar. It’s exciting to be working with this new individual. He took over an existing school and he’s considering venturing into a jump school – I’ve been trying to get somebody involved in that for years. We have a college right next door to us – Indiana University of Pennsylvania – and I’ve been working with them to possibly expand their operations and put some type of aviation-oriented school, here. We’d also like to build an EMS, an Emergency Medical Services facility/hangar.
“We’re working with our engineering company on a new Master Plan and part of that plan calls for an Airport expansion. There’s a piece of land outside the Airport that the county is looking at to purchase to increase the Airport’s footprint and possibly put in some sort of air business park. We’re surrounded by different types of businesses; the majority of them utilize the Airport in one way or another, but we’re looking to expand that and, hopefully, draw in more aviation-oriented businesses – something that we can actually put a taxiway to their building to give them access to the runway.”
The good news is that the Airport’s runway has just been lengthened from 4,000 to 5,500 feet and two brand new GPS approaches have been added. “So we are now a 21st century, all-weather airport,” Fuellner remarks. “We’ve had planes come in when the weather was terrible and all of a sudden, someone is sitting on my ramp. It’s amazing how that technology works. You can get in and out at any time. The other thing we have going for us is Indiana, itself. It’s a wonderful town. We have a fantastic area here; there are so many opportunities here in Indiana and I can see it growing. It’s a great opportunity for somebody in the aviation business, or anything aviation-oriented, to move into this facility.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport
WHAT: A general aviation airport
WHERE: Indiana County, Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh