Recent years have seen many improvements to privately owned runway
You might have recently read something about recreational and hobby industries not doing so well. The recession is taking its toll in areas people happily spent their money in boom times but now are pulling away from.
General aviation is, unsurprisingly, one of those areas. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Pilot magazine reports the ranks of pilot students is shrinking to its lowest levels in years. According to a 2009 USA Today poll, many general aviation airports operate at a loss, relying on public funds to stay open or fading into insolvency.
But while the industry picture is dim, at the South Albany Airport in Selkirk, nothing could be further from the truth, said manager and owner Ted Zabinski.
Things are picking up. Business is picking up, he said. `A lot of these small, privately owned airports are closing down.`
Today, roughly 50 small, privately owned propeller planes are based at South Albany, 10 of which are parked under a new shade hangar that was just finished last year. Like a gas station overhang, it’s a cost-effective solution to keeping the planes out of the elements.
`Everybody loves the new shade hangars,` Zabinski said. `It keeps the hail, sun and snow off of the airplanes.`
But the shade hangar is only the most recent of the improvements the airport has seen in recent years. The airport has been in operation since 1947, when it was not much more than a strip of grass on a sod farming operation. In time, an asphalt runway was installed, and was widened in 2000 to 60 feet.
In 2005, security fencing was upgraded to circle the entire 60 acres of the airport. Electronic keypads allow authorized pilots entry.
It was an appreciated upgrade for the pilots who house their planes there, and not just for security reasons. Situated in a rural area of town, deer could sometimes make their way onto the runway, which made night landings a bit more white knuckle, said pilot Steve Lopinski.
`I feel a lot more secure about it with the fence,` he said.
Even the clubhouse, where pilots can relax, socialize and plan their outings, has undergone considerable upgrades. The old clubhouse was actually a chicken coop, but today the lounge is a comfortable collection of sofas and chairs. There’s even a covered picnic area outside, where the South Albany Airport Corporation holds get-togethers.
Right now, the airport is before the town’s Planning Board with hopes of constructing a new maintenance hangar. It would be a considerable upgrade to the facilities they already have, making repairs and plane inspections easier.
If all goes well, Zabinski hopes to have that project under way in September.
The work at the airport is organized by the South Albany Airport Corp., which is maintained through rental fees and fuel sales ` many pilots make the airport their pit stop ` `transient` traffic ` as the $4.19/gallon aviation fuel is about the cheapest around.
In past years, the corporation’s also been able to secure grants from the Department of Transportation, in part because the facilities are used by the Army National Guard and state police for training, and for Life Med flights.
Zabinski said he’d like to see more shade hangars installed in the future, but would also like to provide more services at the airport for the community like an airport diner or ice cream stand.
Zabinski has been managing the airport for two and a half years now, along with his wife, Kathy. He learned to fly there, 13 years ago, and when he’s not working as a line technician for National Grid, he enjoys taking up his restored 1947 Stinson 108.
The airport is located at 6 Old School Road in Selkirk, just off Creble Road.“