Should the town sell? Council weighs options for Farmville airport

Published 7:19 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

FARMVILLE – The town council wants to see if anyone has interest in buying or the Farmville airport. As part of their strategic plan approved in the Wednesday, April 12 meeting, the group authorized Farmville Town Manager Dr. Scott Davis to “contact the aeronautical programs at Liberty and Averett universities to determine if there is any interest in owning, managing or in some other way partnering with the Town on airport operations.” 

Speaking with The Herald, Davis said the council just wants to look at options. 

“How do we take it from being wholly funded and operated by the town and how do we look at having partners, potentially?” Davis said. “Do we look at creating some kind of authority? An airport commission? Are there other counties, cities or entities willing to partner with us?” 

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Davis said Liberty and Averett were specifically referenced because of their connections to the airport. Liberty University, for example, uses Farmville Regional Airport for their pilot training programs. Davis wondered if there were ways to expand the school’s use into a partnership. As for Averett, Davis wondered if the university would be interested in an opportunity where students could work on airplanes at the Farmville facility.

Looking at Farmville airport revenue

Before we keep going on the revenue side, some readers may be surprised to learn Farmville has a regional airport. It’s located at 130 Wedgewood Drive, just five miles northwest of town. During its time in operation, the airport has housed July 4th fireworks and other public events, law enforcement training, agricultural spraying and search and rescue training operations. While it’s for private airplanes, it’s similar in many ways to the airports you’ll find in Charlottesville, Richmond and Roanoke, just a bit smaller.  

One concern for the town council and staff is that Farmville remains the main funding source for the airport, other than grant projects. Yes, the airport received $1.445 million in state and federal grants so far this fiscal year, but those are one-time gifts, given for specific repair work and projects. A portion of that, for example, is designated to help pay for paving work up to where the hangers are. 

On the operating side, the Farmville Regional Airport generated $159,415.01 in expenses this fiscal year, as of April 18, according to documents The Herald requested from the town. It brought in revenue of $100,844.22, meaning that as of now, it’s showing an operational loss of $58,570.79. 

“How do we generate more revenue, that’s what we’re looking at,” Davis said. “Can we share costs for the airport with a partner? Can we enhance the airport and bring in more traffic?” 

Selling jet fuel and renting hangers

Currently, the main revenue for the airport comes from selling jet fuel, which has brought in $32,830.76 this fiscal year and selling aviation gasoline, at $52,077.57 this year. Aviation gasoline is what’s used in most piston-engine planes. AV gas as it’s called still contains lead, as more than 200,000 registered piston-engine planes still use it. 

Beyond that, the town also made $5,836.05 as people paid to rent hanger space for their planes. Even combined, Davis said, that’s not a lot of revenue. 

“We’ve got to look at other ways of making it,” he added. “We’re really just looking at options for how we make this better.” 

The three biggest expenses for the operation may sound similar to the revenue. It cost the town $39,379.25 to buy aviation gas so far this year, with another $21,561 spent on jet fuel. Salaries for the airport staff come out to $29,587.05. 

Davis said he hopes by the end of this year to have started conversations about a partnership or other proposals.