When Hillsdale Municipal Assistant Manager Scott Curry goes to refuel jets, he fills the fuel truck and drives to the plain on the taxiway. Because the airport’s fuel farm is presently outdated, jet planes can’t fill directly from the tank. The fuel truck serves as a go-between, bringing fuel to the plane and providing another filter for the fuel.
The airport is renovating its fuel farms, a project which it should complete by the end of the year, as part of its initiative to expand and update the current airport facilities.
Hillsdale Municipal Airport continues its steady course of modernization. Years ago, workers extended the runway by 100 feet to bring the runway to 5,000 by 100 feet — large enough for a Gulfstream airplane.
“We put 1,000 extra feet on the runway because of the demand for larger jets to come in,” Curry said.
Last October, workers completed an expanded apron, where passengers can more easily board the plane. Future airport plans could include building new hangars on the apron or even a new terminal.
“Projects such as the new terminal and tee hangers could hopefully be funded by private individuals,” Airport Manager Ginger Moore said. “Often, the people who own the jet will build them. We have the land lease. They’ll show us their plans, and we move forward from there.”
Its latest improvement, the fuel farm, is funded by state dollars.
“The Michigan Department of Transportation gives us $150,000 in entitlement money a year,” Moore said. “That money comes from taxes on aviation fuel, so it’s not like it would be going to roads. The city pays only five percent.”
Before the airport can move forward on certain improvements, such as a taxi-way extension, it must upgrade the fuel farm.
“The taxiway extension would go right through the fuel farm,” Curry said.
The current fuel farm also needs improvement in its own right.
“Our fuel farm is so outdated,” Curry said. “The new fuel farm will be up to industry standards.”
The new fuel farm, which should be completed this year, also makes it easier for customers to fuel their planes.
“The new fuel farm is aboveground,” Airport Mechanic Monico Lopez said. “Pilots can move the aircraft to the tanks and pump their own fuel after paying via credit card. It’s much easier for pilots which would draw more traffic to the airport.”
And the improvements seem to be drawing more traffic to the airport.
“Since I got here two years ago, the airport has really grown,” Curry said. “There’s only one spot available in the hangars.”
The airport has seen more corporate clients.
“The airport is moving toward corporate aircraft and corporations using their aircraft to travel around,” Moore said. “In the past, people could own a single engine airplane and use it for fun. But that’s going by the wayside.”
“Most hobbyists now are older gentlemen,” Curry said. “In the 1970s, it used to be like having a car. Fuel wasn’t outrageous, insurance was reasonable, and parts were easy to find. But times have changed.”
Hillsdale Municipal Airport’s renovations in the future should help it adjust, Curry said.
“It’s a long, drawn-out process,” Curry said. “The renovations today were started 10 years ago. It moves really slow. The fuel farm is just the beginning of things.”