When people think of airports, they often think big. They think of sprawling international airports that serve tens of millions of passengers every year. However, not all airports — not even many airports — are anywhere near that large. Most do not even support commercial flights.
Even in this era of international air travel, many people still manage small airports that service a variety of flight needs. It’s important for them to exist. With that said, it’s also important to manage them properly. We’ll provide some professional advice in this article, based on our own experiences and those of our customers.
Choose a Popular Location
Perhaps you are reading this article because a small airport near you is currently seeking buyers. It’s always worth asking: if this airport is so great, why is the owner selling it? There could be many reasons that you can work with, but the one thing that doesn’t change is location.
Whether you’re looking into buying an existing one or planning to start your own, location is vital to consider. Financial success depends entirely on how many pilots will touch down and take off from your runways. If it’s nowhere near a route that sees substantial traffic, you should look elsewhere.
Get Legal Matters Squared Away
The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) enforces many regulations that all airports must follow, including some that apply specifically to small airports. Before you turn any ideas into anything concrete, you should reach out to the FAA and make sure that everything is compliant. (We also recommend becoming very familiar with the Airport Cooperative Research Program’s (ACRP) Guidebook for Managing Small Airports, which they sponsored.)
On top of that, you may need to work with the local government regarding their zoning laws, real estate laws, and similar matters. It may help to hire a lawyer with knowledge in all these fields plus aviation.
Pave the Runways
The days of dirt runways never really left. Nothing is stopping you from asking pilots to land on a grassy field. If you pursue this course, though, nothing is stopping insurance companies from denying coverage for your airport. As a result, you may lose all the money that you would’ve saved on paved runways.
We strongly advise you to just invest. It’s not just more agreeable to insurance companies. Pilots may find it more comfortable than scraping their pricy private planes on grass and mud. You may come to prefer it yourself as you try to drive cars, airport tugs, and other equipment around the site.
Open an On-Site Restaurant
Pilots often fly for hours at a time. It’s no wonder that they often work up an appetite along the way. One way to boost your small airport’s revenue is to offer hot meals. As they wait for the next flight, they can pay to grab a bite or take it to go. Needless to say, the food you offer should be high-quality stuff.
With that said, relying solely on pilots as customers is a surefire method for the restaurant’s failure. You should construct the restaurant near a road, open it to the public, and advertising. That way, you can use supplies while they’re fresh and turn a profit even when no one is flying your way.
Sell Fuel at Competitive Prices
An even more popular method of making money from a small airport is the sale of aircraft fuel. It’s not exactly something you can find at the local gas station. However, you shouldn’t mistake this situation for scarcity and jack up prices. There may be other airports within flying distance that offer it for less.
Instead of losing customers to those other airports, you should strive to keep prices competitive yet profitable. Try to learn what your rivals are charging, then try to match or surpass them. You should be fine if you don’t mark down too much, and your visitors will remember you the next time they fly this route.
Employ On-Site Mechanics
Your small airport does not just have to be a place where flyers can take a break and fuel up. It can also be a place where they can get quality repairs from a professional mechanic or a team. After all, every aircraft should be as shipshape as possible before being cleared for takeoff.
Whoever you hire should be experienced and knowledgeable about the inner workings of aircraft. Ideally, they should be able to service several types of aircraft (although, yours being a small airport, they won’t exactly work on many jumbo jets). Most importantly, you should pay them fair rates. If their presence is intended to draw visitors, they deserve good compensation.
Diversify Your Airport’s Services
The biggest airports devote all their resources to commercial flights and air shipping, but smaller airports have the freedom to do more. You could haul the personal aircraft of VIPs with airport tugs into private hangars. You could partner with a flight school and allow student pilots to use your runways. With a wide enough area, you could do a lot.
Of course, you should only diversify in this manner if you have the resources. On the other hand, offering several different services can open up several different revenue streams. It’ll require careful planning and management to pull off, but the rewards can make your airport a desirable destination.
Get the Right Equipment
Every airport needs plenty of equipment to run smoothly and efficiently, and yours would be no different. Communications systems are a must-have for contacting pilots. Runway lights are crucial if you plan to operate after dark. Chocks, service stairs, and other ground support equipment are also essential.
You could easily run up a lengthy shopping list of useful equipment and tools. While you look at different models, make sure to find the ones that suit small airports. You don’t need anything designed for Boeing 747s. Moreover, you should focus on quality, even if it means spending a little extra.
Shop for High-Quality Airport Tugs
Airport tugs are another example of vital equipment. These machines make pulling aircraft into and out of hangars much easier and more convenient. Powertow offers several different models that any small airport could benefit from using if you seek high-quality tugs. Check out our selection and see which ones best suit your needs and your guests’ needs. We hope our products and our advice come in handy, and we wish you the best of luck.