Article by Michelle Howe

Aviation enthusiasts of all types will be happy to hear that there are continued improvements on the horizon at the Marion Airport. As some may know, the airport has been in operation serving the Marion community for over 50 years. It was operated as a privately owned public use airport by Jan and Perry Walton as P&N Flight & Charter for over thirty of those years, until recently, when Genesis Equities LLC entered the picture. That is when Jeff Witter, a pilot and aviation enthusiast and his daughter, Hannah Kustes, approached the City of Marion and proposed a city cooperative arrangement for the further development of the airport which would allow the airport to remain a community asset; and also provide the opportunity for growth and future improvements.

In the Spring of 2015, the City of Marion purchased 27 acres which included the runway and original FBO (fixed-base operator) building. As part of the arrangement, LuxAir Aviation LLC, a newly formed business, purchased the surrounding ground and buildings needed to support the airport operations. Through a lease agreement with the City, LuxAir Aviation agreed to operate and maintain the airport in its entirety, including the 27 acres owned by the City. The arrangement is unique from most municipal airports, however, it offers some benefits to the City such as gains from increased property tax base by remaining privately owned and the avoidance of annual operational costs such as management of the airport, lawn care and snow removal. LuxAir Aviation LLC also manages the general airport operations, hangar rentals, fuel sales, charter services, and aircraft maintenance. P&N Flight & Charter also continues to operate at the airport, providing flight training and aircraft rental services.

Due to FAA guidelines, the airport is not currently eligible for federal funding of improvements. For this reason, the City of Marion is limited to utilizing State funding to assist with improvements, and has recently applied to the Iowa Department of Transportation for various grants to widen the runway and enhance the facility. IDOT recently posted on their website that the City of Marion application for Runway 17/35 Widening and Partial Reconstruction, a $499,533 project, is being recommended and considered for approval by the Transportation Commission as part of the FY 2018 Program, which will be voted on during the Commissions meeting in early August. This news is encouraging for both aviators and the business community. It will both enhance the types of aircraft that can be accommodated in Marion and dramatically increase the safety of the airport.

“We’re seeing a lot of new activity,” says Kustes. “There are a lot of transient travelers going from east to west coast or regionally in between, and they want to stop at a smaller more private facility, but still have access to city conveniences. These improvements will be a step towards keeping Marion and Linn County competitive in the state and the region.” LuxAir Aviation recently constructed a new maintenance hangar and office building which is presently serving as an updated FBO space on the privately owned grounds. The hangar spaces in total can hold approximately 45 planes across eight different buildings. Also new to the airport are fueling facilities that include Jet A fuel, which provides options for transient aircraft and services several based aircraft, such as Flight for Life helicopters and AgCat aircraft, an option those businesses didn’t used to have at Marion.

Construction of at least one additional airplane hangar is also on the horizon this fall to accommodate the growing need for more space. Hopefully DOT votes to approve the grant application, the runway design can be approved, work on widening the runway could begin in early October. “Our hope would be that the City would get it done this fall if weather allows. This is a critical safety improvement for the airport, so the sooner the better,” says Kustes, “if not this fall, then first thing in the spring.” The enhancement to the runway will make it much safer and allow the airport to increase traffic and interest in the area. The current runway is only 23 feet wide paved. With improvements, the runway will expand to 60 feet in width and allow Marion to be one step closer to meeting the criteria for a General Service Airport, which is the next step for Marion. The spacious grounds adjacent to the runway hold much room for expansion as well - pilots and aircraft owners have the ability to build and own a private hangar if they want.

The Marion Airport offers more than just pilots and aircraft owners the ability to enjoy the facilities. A popular event that draws people from the region to the airport is the Annual Fly-In Pancake Breakfast, traditionally held in June as part of the Freedom Festival Events, in conjunction with the Marion Rotary club. It provides people of all ages, families and kids an opportunity to get educated and energized about aviation. Kids are able to touch and feel aircraft, sit in the planes, take plane rides and watch sky diving. In addition, various local vendors are present and classic or show cars are on display.

With these improvements and activities it’s easy to see that the airport will be able to attract more business to the adjacent Marion Enterprise Center, and continue to bring more visitors to the greater metro area.

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