Saturday, October 21, 2006

St. Louis Has One Airport - St. Charles Has Two

Story & Photos
By Lynndi Lockenour

Airplanes have been in the news again recently after the potential terror plot to use commercial airliners as missiles and fly them into the United States. All this attention causes most Americans when considering airplanes, to think of large, commercial jets used to transport passengers long distances, often overseas. On the contrary, there is an entirely different type of airplane - and airport for that matter - operating right here in St. Charles County.

The two main airports in St. Charles County are the St. Charles County Smartt Airport, located 12 miles north of downtown near Highway 94 East and the St. Charles Flying Service, located at 3001 New Town Blvd. Between the two airports, years of service have provided the county with a unique and historical background of aviation.

The older of the two, St. Charles County Smartt Airport - also known as Smartt Field – began prior to World War II. Named after Ensign Joseph G. Smartt who died in service at Pearl Harbor, the site was previously used as a naval training base and was later converted into an airport.

Smartt Field houses several different organizations. These include the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) – chapter 32, The Commemorative Air force (CAF), Skylink Aviation and Boeing. The EEA is most known for the free airplane rides they offer for children ages 10-17. The CAF sponsors an air force museum, located in one of the original buildings dating back to the naval training days at Smartt Field. The museum is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Admission is $1 for adults and children under 10 years of age are free.

Airplane owners can also rent one of Smartt Field’s 72 hangers to store their aircraft. At a cost of $160-$200 per hanger, per month the hangers provide beneficial protection from the weather when the planes are not in use.

Smartt Field has two runways, the primary one being 3801 feet long. Home base for more than 100 aircraft, Smartt Field averages 55,000 take-offs or landings every year. Creating 49 jobs, with a payroll of $1.3 million and generating $3.7 million in output, Smartt Field adds to the economy of the county. Airport Director Tracy Smith said the airport provides great benefits to St. Charles. “This is a wonderful facility,” he said. “St. Charles is lucky to have it.”

Offering a different type of service is the county’s second airport, St. Charles Flying Service. Organized in 1968, the airport offers many services including certified air taxi service, Sport Pilot training, Part 141 flight school, a full service maintenance shop, aircraft sales and purchasing and aerial advertising.
President and general manager Dennis Bampton said small airports like the Flying Service do a lot for the community. The airport operates seven days a week and often has flights leaving in the middle of the night.

One of the Service’s many business operations is providing transport for a laboratory testing facility known as LabCorp. Often when people visit the doctor they are required to give samples of various bodily fluids to be tested for disease. The tests are sometimes conducted states away and the results then sent back here to the St. Louis area. Airplanes provide the quick transportation needed to make this happen. “Most people don’t think about small airplanes being used for this type of work,” Bampton said. “But we have plans leaving here with samples every night.”

The Flying Service generates $1 million in business from this type of freight hauling service. “When it is critical that the freight get there in a timely manor, we are the ones to call,” he said. “After all, for many businesses, time is money.”

In addition to this type of hauling, the airport also offers charter flights to specific cities within a 400-mile radius of the St. Louis area. Bampton said businesses often use this service as opposed to the commercial airlines. He estimates that around 1000 charter flights come through the airport every year. “We can get them there and have them back the same night,” he said. “That saves time and money in the long run.”

Many people visit the airport from out-of-state hoping to acquire their airline transport rating. In order to operate a commercial airliner, a pilot must first obtain the rating by attending a series of classes. Bampton estimates that the airport gives ratings to nearly 400 pilots every year.

A newer program at the airport is the Sport Pilot Training Facility. A special license, different from a regular pilot’s license allows pilots to man and operate a sport plane. Smaller and lighter than other planes, the Sport planes are a new popular attraction among retired men. “It’s faster than getting a private pilot’s license, but it still fulfills that desire to fly,” Bampton said.

The Flying Service employs 43 people full and part-time and just like Smartt Field, it is a great asset to the community. “Our service generates a lot of money for the county,” he said. “We are happy to be here and to provide the unique services we do.”

For more information on Smartt Field contact Tracy Smith at (636) 250-3200. For questions concerning the Commemorative Air force or their aerial museum, call (636) 250-4515. To reach the St. Charles Flying Service call (636) 946-6066.