Helgesen News

 JANESVILLE -- Those at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport are looking to lease more space to help offset potential drops in revenue.

 "It's going to be a tough year," said Director Ron Burdick.

The total budget for the airport is around $700,000 this year, with the tax levy being $417,000. The airport typically receives about $300,000 from the various businesses that rent space and pay fees.

Mr. Burdick said he estimates the incoming revenue will be a little lower for 2009 because of less money coming in from landing fees, although it's still too early to tell what the shortfall will be.

The airport started having some challenges about two years ago when fuel prices increased. Then, when the economic downturn occurred this fall, many companies started cutting back on their business travel.

Mr. Burdick said the airport has also been adversely affected by the struggling automotive industry. Before the General Motors plant in Janesville shut down, the airport was flying a large amount of cargo for the automaker. The airport also received cargo from Alcoa Wheels in Beloit and Lear seating in Janesville. During the past five years, an average of more than 714,900 pounds of cargo passed through the airport.

"When truckers couldn't get the materials to the plant on time, it was all shipped in by air," he said.

Mr. Burdick said the Rock County Board of Supervisors is looking at how to assist the airport. The budget process will start in June, and the new budget will be adopted by next fall. Burdick said he will be looking at all options to cut costs and increase revenue.

He noted that staff is already pretty lean, with only six full-time employees including an airport director, an account clerk and four airport maintenance workers.

"Most airports this size have twice as many on staff," he said.

Despite challenges from the economy, Mr. Burdick said the airport is still a great asset to the county. Located on 1,400 acres, the airport has three runways and averages more than 67,500 operations, or landings and takeoffs each year.

The airport serves businesses within and outside of the county and is used by private pilots, corporations and commercial carriers. Mr. Burdick added that the airport provides an estimated 250 jobs. All of this, Mr. Burdick said, makes the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport a much needed resource for the south central Wisconsin and northern Illinois area.

"The airport is a useful tool for bringing in businesses from outside the region. It's one of the top 10 items businesses look at when they are relocating to a community," Mr. Burdick said.

He added that there are 94 aircraft based at the airport. It owns and maintains 46 T hangars, and plans are under way to build more T-hangars to rent out.

"Our lease rates are very reasonable as compared to other airports," he said.

Of the 1,400 acres at the airport, Burdick said there are 450 acres available for development.

The airport includes a fixed base operator with fuel sales, an aircraft power plant and airframe mechanics business, two flight training facilities, two charter flight operators, one aircraft power plant and airframe mechanics training school. It also features an 18-hole golf course and driving range and two restaurants -- one year-round and one seasonal.

"The restaurant and the golf course seem to be doing very well. It's a big draw for the weekend pilots. The gives them a destination, and they get to sit out there and watch the other aircraft," he said. "We get a lot of weekend traffic out of the Chicago and Milwaukee corridor. Pilots fly over for breakfast and lunch and fly back."

Another bright spot for the airport is Helicopter Specialties, 4746 S Columbia Drive, owned by Jim Freeman. The business refurbishes helicopters for the medical industry. Helicopter Specialties has plans to expand its facilities and double its size this year.

Those at the airport are looking forward to the Southerm Wisconsin AirFEST set for May 29-31. Burdick said the event grows each year and continues to bring recognition to the airport.

The good news is, Burdick said, development tends to move from east to west, from the Chicago and Milwaukee areas to the Stateline Area. As that development happens, Burdick expects the airport to grow substantially.

"All of our amenities are in place to accommodate that growth," Mr. Burdick said. "We'll be ready."