Aviation

Wichita airports ‘stepping up game’ for new tenants

Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, stands on the tarmac of Wichita Eisenhower National Airport. He’s looking for ways to attract new tenants for parcels of empty ground at Eisenhower and Jabara. (June 6, 2017)
Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, stands on the tarmac of Wichita Eisenhower National Airport. He’s looking for ways to attract new tenants for parcels of empty ground at Eisenhower and Jabara. (June 6, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

At Wichita Eisenhower National Airport on the city’s west side, there are 474 acres of undeveloped land — 121 of which have direct access to its runways.

At Col. James Jabara Airport on the east side, there are 331 acres of undeveloped land — 97 of which have runway access.

Victor White, director of airports for the Wichita Airport Authority, would like to change that.

He wants to attract new aviation-related companies looking to relocate here that will bring jobs and revenue for the airports.

“We’re stepping up our game,” White said. “Our goal is to find new aviation tenants at both airports.”

Since construction of the new terminal at Eisenhower has wrapped up, White and his staff has made filling those unused parcels of ground a higher priority.

They’re doing so in a number of ways, including developing a new website, sending staff to trade shows and working on a plan to market that property through the hiring of a real estate broker.

At the National Business Aviation Association Convention last year, White said he noticed “more and more” airports attempting to lure new business to their properties.

One sector of aviation that the airport authority and the Greater Wichita Partnership — the region’s public-private economic development group — are focusing on specifically to fill some of that vacant ground is maintenance, repair and overhaul.

MRO companies are a good candidate because “that sector of aviation is growing and continues to grow,” said Andrew Nave, executive vice president of economic development for the partnership.

According to the International Air Transport Association’s 2016 MRO Forecast, the industry in North America is expected to grow 4.4 percent a year to 2025.

The 60 aviation-related businesses currently located at Eisenhower include MRO firms, in addition to fixed-base operators and aircraft manufacturers, according to flywichita.com.

For the first time in White’s nearly 12-year tenure, the authority sent one of its employees to the annual MRO Americas trade show in late April to help promote Eisenhower and Jabara as potential expansion or relocation sites for MRO companies. He sees it as something that the airport authority will continue to attend, as well as the annual NBAA convention.

Having the city’s airports represented at MRO America’s augmented the Greater Wichita Partnership’s presence at the biggest industry show in the U.S.

“It’s a huge advantage to have the public assets of Eisenhower and Jabara” to talk about at the show, Nave said.

“We already have some standing and a reputation in the space,” he added, also acknowledging the presence of Textron Aviation Cessna and Bombardier Learjet at Eisenhower.

“It just really … helps start a conversation with interested companies.”

Nave said a group Wichita officials met with at this year’s MRO show will travel to the city in late June to look at available real estate. He would not identify the group nor offer any additional details.

At the same time the authority is making its offerings known to the MRO industry, it’s also planning to create a separate website to make site selectors and developers aware of its available parcels at Eisenhower and Jabara, White said. It already uses a part of its flywichita.com site to market the parcels, but White envisions something “more visible” that “will be designed from ground zero.”

More immediately, the airport authority plans to hire a real estate broker to market Eisenhower and Jabara properties. That would also be a first.

“This is a real opportunity for us to do something different,” White said.

He expects that effort to involve issuing a request for proposal for brokers to compete for the work. He hopes for that process to be completed as early as this fall.

“It’s one more thing in the toolbox to get this property here promoted,” he said.

Nave said having the airport authority more actively involved in marketing its available land is helpful as the partnership works to attract not only MRO companies but others in the aviation industry.

“To have on-site capacity and connection with the city on airport property is critical,” he said.

KCAC Aviation of Olathe brought its annual Great Planes Air Expo to Mid-Continent Aviation Services at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport on Thursday, May 25, 2017, showcasing nine aircraft from six airplane manufacturers including Textron Aviati

A large crowd gathered to welcome the first flight into Eisenhower National Airport on June 3, 2015. (Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle)

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark

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