(Janesville, WI) Debra Jensen-DeHart, Beloit Daily News
The Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, just a few miles north of Beloit and south of Janesville off State Highway 51, has been serving the needs of the public for more than 60 years.
And for more than 40 of those years, Airport Director Ron Burdick has worked at the site.
“I’ve been out here since 1975 and as the director for 26 years,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes.”
While the airport no longer has the scheduled passenger air service it once had, or the “Just in Time” delivery in connection to the former General Motors plant, the site continues to grow its business.
“Our infrastructure is quite large and we do quite a bit of air traffic at the corporate level,” Burdick said.
The airport offers two runways for primary approach, and a third runway as a secondary approach.
“We can handle up to a 747-200 (Air Force One)” he said.
What makes Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport different from the bigger airports is its convenience, he said.
“It’s easier to get in and out because we do not have airline service,” Burdick said. “(Still) we are capable of handling a range of aircraft, our rates are good and we have good access to the interstate,” Burdick said.
A major change over the past three years the airport has undergone is the main terminal building renovation. The $3.2 million project was paid for with 80 percent of the funds coming from the state and 20 percent from Rock County, Burdick said. Presently, the final work is being completed in what is projected to be the restaurant portion of the building. Plans for the building also called for a pilot’s lounge, administrative offices and a conference room.
Marketing to fill the restaurant space is likely to begin in April, Burdick said.
A major expansion also is underway on the airport grounds at one of the service provider sites. The fast-growing company is SC Aviation, Inc.
SC Aviation, Inc. is a subsidiary of Colony Brands, Inc. It provides charter aircraft maintenance and aircraft management services, said Dan Morrison, director of sales and marketing.
“We manage planes for companies and we rent them out when they are not in use,” he said. “We offer maintenance and pilot services.”
Aircraft are rented out to help offset the costs to their owners.
Business has reached the point that an additional hangar is needed, Morrison said. The company is constructing a new 36,720-square-foot hangar. Not only will that help with the growth in its charter operation and maintenance services, it also will lead to more job creation, Morrison said.
Presently, SC is managing 10 aircraft, primarily passenger planes. They range in size from smaller jets with seating capacity for seven passengers to larger planes with a 10-seat capacity. The aircraft are used for both business and pleasure purposes.
SC Aviation, Inc., has more than 50 pilots and normally rents out six or seven planes from the site.
The advantage the operation offers customers is clear.
“What we give the customer is time,” Morrison said. A CEO who might need to meet with clients in three states can do so in a day and be home for supper, for example. “We work around the customer’s schedule.”
Among the other service providers at the airport are the Janesville Jet Center and Helicopter Specialties, Inc.
“What we mainly do here is business chartered planes,” said Bonnie Cooksey, Janesville Jet Center Manager.
Line Service Supervisor Terry Meehan does the fueling and other aircraft services such as de-icing. Cooksey handles personal customer needs such as setting up car rentals, motel needs or catering.
“Open the door and you don’t know who might step out,” said Meehan.
That is part of the fun. Some of the passengers have included Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Detroit Lions Coach Jim Caldwell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Passengers come to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport for business, golfing, weddings, funerals and more. Sometimes the arrivals and departures are in connection to medical needs. Patients are dropped off or picked up, with an ambulance team waiting, Meehan and Cooksey said. Sometimes rescue dogs and animals also are brought in or flown out.
The Janesville Jet Center operates seven days a week and also has a Piper Archer aircraft on site that is used for flight instruction.
Helicopter Specialties, Inc., offers an FAA certified repair station and customized service for special needs.
Jim Freeman is president of the company.
“We do maintenance and repair overall of helicopters. We also do airplane avionics, but primarily helicopters,” he said.
Those helicopters could come from near and far.
“We generally get our customers from east of the Rockies,” Freeman said, noting they’ve also served customers from Japan, South America and other faraway places.
On this day, the hangar housed several helicopters, including one from Alaska, one from Med Flight, and a shiny gray, black and white beauty used by the FBI containing the bells and whistles needed to track down criminals.
“Some of them are here for aviation upgrades; others are here for maintenance,” Freeman said. “We are a vendor for Med Flight.”
Maintenance and repair is driven by how often the helicopters are flown. In another area of the operation, employees work on customizing parts for customers.
“We’ll take an idea a customer has a need for and then get it FAA certified,” he said.
One of those customer needs being worked on was a catch system that could be installed so that when a patient is being lowered on a stretcher from a helicopter. The plan is to make it so the stretcher will snag and not slip, ensuring the safety of the patient.
“We have a lot of good relationships with hospitals,” Freeman said.
Other specialty innovations the company has provided are the mountings for syringe pumps and other medical equipment so they could be fastened down inside the compact helicopter interiors.