Runway attracts activity, development to Fairfield

It?s no secret that Fairfield has one of the nicest airports in the region.

Not only does it sport a terminal building less than two years old, it also has one of the longest runways in southeast Iowa. For years, the Fairfield Municipal Airport?s runway measured 4,000 feet, the same as the runways in neighboring Washington and Mt. Pleasant. But in 2008, the airport expanded the runway to 5,500 feet, making it longer than those in larger cities like Oskaloosa, Pella, and even Iowa City.

The result has been a steady stream of jet traffic through the airport ever since. Airport manager Bob Lyons said a jet landed at the airport last week that really caught his eye.

?A big jet called a Challenger 350 landed here,? he said. ?It can travel close to 500 miles per hour, and can fly from California to Hawaii. It?s 69 feet wide and 69 feet long. We?ve had bigger jets come through, but this jet was brand new.?

Lyons said the jet?s trip to Fairfield was its maiden voyage. He said the crew on the jet did not reveal who the passenger was. In a good month, the airport sees about six or seven jets come through. Lyons said many of the jets? passengers are here to visit Cambridge Investment Research.


Big whigs

Executives who need to visit the area will often fly to Fairfield, and then take a car to a nearby town. For instance, when Pilot Travel Center was building its gas station in Mt. Pleasant, the company?s owner Jimmy Haslam flew to Fairfield because of its longer runway, and drove the rest of the way to Mt. Pleasant. Haslam also owns the National Football League franchise the Cleveland Browns.

Lyons mentioned that many celebrities have come through the municipal airport because of its ability to accommodate jets. The list includes talk show host Oprah Winfrey, actor Jim Carrey, singer Brian Wilson, and singer Toby Keith, who Lyons said visits the area to hunt deer.


FAA approval

Credit for Fairfield?s runway extension goes to Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy, Lyons said. The project cost $10 million. The Federal Aviation Administration was to pay 95 percent of the cost, leaving the city to pay the remaining $500,000. Lyons said the city had to convince the FAA it needed the longer runway to accommodate the two jets based at the airport, and to welcome many more that wanted to land here.

?The mayor even went to Washington, D.C., to argue our case, and he deserves a pat on the back for what he did,? Lyons said. ?It?s difficult to get a runway this long, and it has been so important for economic development. There?s no way the planes coming to Cambridge could fit on a 4,000-foot runway.?

The city earns money each time a plane lands at the runway to refuel. The pilots pay Lyons for the fuel, who then pays a 5 cents per gallon flowage fee to the city. The flowage fee generates between $2,000 and $3,000 annually, Lyons said.