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Mock-up of the pro­posed Hillsdale Municipal Airport ter­minal. Jason Walters | Courtesy


A set of concept designs shared exclu­sively with The Col­legian showcase plans for a $3 to $8 million expansion for the Hillsdale Municipal Airport, including the addi­tions of a restaurant, museum, and pilot shop.

“We want to get together some sponsors, donors, and avi­ation enthu­siasts to help build and incor­porate an edu­ca­tional element into this ter­minal,” Airport Manager Jason Walters said.”This is all an ini­tiative to develop and design a ter­minal that is self-suf­fi­cient so it can be a lifetime building.”

Mock-up of the pro­posed Hillsdale Municipal Airport ter­minal. Jason Walters | Courtesy

The Hillsdale Municipal Airport is managed by Walters and his company Patriot Avi­ation, a rel­a­tively small orga­ni­zation, with five full and part-time employees. Despite only serving 1,000 to 1,500 landings and takeoffs a year, Walters said he is opti­mistic that he can fund the ambi­tious airport project with the help of sponsors to avoid dipping into public funds.

“The tax­payer dollars that go to this will be used strictly for service man­agement and grant insurance com­pliance,” Walters said. “This is an out-of-the-box ini­tiative to find a way to elim­inate the burden on the tax­payers.”

Since becoming the airport manager last year, Walters said he has lead a series of improve­ments at the airport, including the ren­o­vation and remod­eling of the existing ter­minal and securing $800,000 in funds from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to replace the existing parking area for air­craft. By hosting a Fly-In on Sep­tember 11 for mil­itary heli­copters and World War II-era planes, Walters helped to promote the airport’s presence in Hillsdale.

The overall floor plan of the expansion concept. Jason Walters | Courtesy

“These improve­ments will allow the airport to be better used to promote new business oppor­tu­nities by improving trans­portation options,” City Manager David Mackie said. “Addi­tionally, we’re hoping these improve­ments will entice others, who use the airport, to par­tic­ipate in the city’s plans to pri­vately develop and maintain a new multi-use ter­minal.”

Most recently, the airport acquired a Cessna Skyhawk plane to use for flying lessons, costing $130 to $150 an hour.

But Walters said he wants to do more. While the addition of a restaurant and a museum to a rural airport may seem unusual, Walters said it will promote avi­ation in the com­munity.

“Almost anyone that lives and breathes avi­ation will tell you the same thing. Pro­moting avi­ation involves pro­moting all aspects of it,” Walters said. “You inspire young, future pilots by getting them active and involved. It’s a Fly-In with Army, Black Hawk heli­copters and a Chinook troop transport that is impres­sionable to that young child. When you look at museums, it’s all con­nected to that.”

First floor design plan including a restaurant and pilot shop. Jason Walters | Courtesy

The ten­tative plan according to Walters’ concept designs is to house two vintage planes in a spare hangar, one mil­itary plane and one transport or pas­senger plane.

“The museum will provide proof to the average person that avi­ation is right there and it’s achievable,” Walters said. “It will inspire, educate, and entertain. The appre­ci­ation for avi­ation grows when you have static dis­plays to ponder and discuss.”

In addition to the museum, Walters said that the con­struction of a restaurant will not only be an appeal for more pilots to visit the airport, but  that it will also bring people from the com­munity to expe­rience avi­ation.

“The concept for the restaurant is to put in a small diner-style restaurant in the ter­minal, which is popular for many other ter­minals,” Walters said. “Not only does it provide a reason for people to fly in, but it also gets people in the com­munity involved so that they can see planes take off and land as they are eating.”

Walters said inter­ested restaurant owners would be able to lease out the space, and all the serving and cooking equipment would be pro­vided for their use. While Walters said the overall vision has received acclaim from city offi­cials and local business owners, some res­i­dents are cau­tious.

Jeff King — a pilot and founder and former member of the Airport Advisory Com­mittee to the Hillsdale City Council — said the vision for the ter­minal is impressive, but safety con­cerns should be foremost.

“I feel it’s a good vision and I’m glad that they have private sponsors to fund it, but I have ongoing con­cerns that the city cannot afford to properly maintain the airport,” King said. “As a pilot, what matters most to me is safety and use­fulness of an airport.”

Con­structing the whole vision as seen in the concept drawings would be great, Walters said, but he wants to pri­or­itize the right aspects of the airport.

“Even if we don’t raise enough to build all of it, we intend to raise enough to build a ter­minal and edu­ca­tional com­po­nents,” Walters said. “We would take away things that wouldn’t gen­erate revenue or be a good return on investment.”

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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.