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Cornejo & Sons in process of buying Riverside Airport

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, at 6:05 p.m.

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Auto dealer Les Eck, who bought the Riverside Airport in 2010, has a buyer for the historic airport.

Eck has signed a deal with Ron Cornejo, CEO of Cornejo & Sons, to acquire the property.

The company intends to use the land for future sand reserves.

Cornejo & Sons operates several sand mining operations.

“Someday when we use up our existing reserves, we will move there,” Cornejo said.

Letters have been sent to those who had rental or lease agreements for the hangars at the airport, giving them notice about moving their airplanes, he said.

The deal has not yet closed.

Eck, owner of Rusty Eck Ford, bought the airport for $1.65 million in an auction of the 200-acre property in 2010

Eck, a pilot who lives near the airport, bought the property from Tom Sanders, who owned and ran it for years. Sanders’ family founded the airport in 1953.

But when Tom Sanders died in 2009, his family didn’t want to manage it anymore.

“I bought it because of the nostalgic value,” Eck said.

His plans were to repair the runway and put in a lake with houses on one side and new hangars on the other.

Eck said he spent more than $200,000 on rezoning efforts.

He also spent a lot of time on Federal Aviation Administration approvals.

As time went on, Eck learned of the city’s plans to put a water line through his property as it worked to widen Hoover Road and to add water lines to prepare for a new city park north of the airport.

“We knew the road was going to be widening,” Eck said. “We just didn’t know about the water lines and other stuff. ... I went back for one final request, and the city told me they’re putting a water line right through the center of my plans.”

Eck’s plans also were stymied from the sale of LaFarge, which was going to pump sand from the property for the lake, Eck said.

With the sale, “the deal I had with them to pump it went sideways,” he said.

Eck also explored finding land to move the airport farther west outside Wichita Mid-Continent Airport airspace.

“The biggest problem that airport has is that it’s underneath the flight pattern of Mid-Continent,” Eck said. “Planes fly right over that airport.”

Pilots must talk to air traffic control to take off or land at Riverside, unlike pilots at airports in Benton, Newton or Augusta, for example, where airspace is uncontrolled.

But Eck couldn’t find the right site for an airport.

“I jumped through a lot of hoops,” he said. “I’d still be interested if somebody has ground that has a mile and a half of unrestricted access, because I’d love to have an airport on the west side of town that’s not in the flight pattern.”

Eck also talked to airplane owners who had their planes at Riverside.

“I was upfront with everybody,” Eck said.

He told them if they wanted to move their planes to feel free to do so.

“They were sad, but I felt they understood that I had given it a pretty good effort,” Eck said.

That was a year and a half ago.

“I wasn’t looking to sell it,” Eck said. “I had people approach me on it.”

In the meantime, Eck said he learned a lot when it comes to airports.

“I learned there is more government red tape that you can shake a stick at,” Eck said. “My intentions were there.

“I had a plan, but it just didn’t come together,” he said. “I gave it a couple hundred thousand (dollar) effort.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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