Flying High

Posted: January 24, 2022

Airport brings big opportunities to Scott County

man standing next to airplaneScott Municipal Airport’s storied history includes landings of presidents and statesmen. And while Air Force One never actually touched down here, as rumors have had it, former President Ronald Reagan did arrive in the official presidential helicopter, Marine One, to visit Howard Baker, Reagan’s one-time chief of staff who lived in Huntsville.

Despite its history, the airport is relatively small compared to commercial facilities. But its 5,500-foot runway and 10 tee hangars are impressive by rural airport standards.

Its effect on the surrounding region is impressive, too, according to a recent Tennessee Aviation Economic Impact Study. The Tennessee Department of Transportation study, which came out in early 2021, put the total economic impact of the airport at $11.2 million — far greater than any other rural airport in East Tennessee.

While rural airports aren’t always on the public radar, they tend to hold hidden economic powers. For example, companies looking to locate job-producing facilities use these smaller facilities more than people might know.

“When a company relocates to an area and builds a new factory, the first thing they look at is transportation,” says Hank Duvall, the airport’s manager since 2007. “The airport is first on that list. Then they look at other transportation, like how close a town is to railroads and interstates for trucking and shipping. But the airport is the first step of any company relocating to an area. They want to be able to fly people in and out easily.”

Soaring Potential

Duvall isn’t surprised by the results of the economic impact study. He’s seen the changes going on at and around the airport, including the increased business at a nearby aircraft maintenance facility. “It’s unbelievable how it has exploded,” he says. “They’re hiring more mechanics, and they’re managing a network of planes. There are jets and King Airs and some smaller planes.”

Most of the people using the nearby maintenance companies and the airport don’t live in Scott County or the surrounding region, Duvall says. But even if they’re not local, they prefer to keep their aircrafts at SCX, as the Federal Aviation Administration calls it. Why? Because the fuel and the rent prices are much cheaper than in Knoxville. “They’re saving a bunch of money by bringing their planes here and keeping a base here,” Duvall says.

Another big point in the airport’s favor is the fiber optic broadband network provided by HTC. “First question out of the mouth of anyone who stops here is, ‘Have you got internet?’” he says. “Pilots need the internet. They pull out their iPads and computers to check the weather and do flight planning. If you don’t have fast internet, then you’re back in the Stone Age.”

Growing Pains

In November, Duvall received the good news that the FAA had agreed to fully fund repairs to SCX’s runway and taxiways, a decision that relieved the county of a big financial burden. But the demand for new hangars still needs to be worked out. “We’ve already filled a 12,000-square-foot hangar,” Duvall says. “We could use two more like that. I’ve got about seven or eight people on a waiting list. Airports like ours make money by hangar rentals and fuel sales.”

Duvall also thinks more planes would fly into the airport if the region could get taxis, Ubers or a rental car service to bring vehicles there. Despite the needs, however, the airport could grow in the coming years. “I’m sure we could get more people and more planes if we get the space,” he says.

Aviation Haven: Big Southfork Airpark

Stretched out on 450 acres between Scott Municipal Airport and Big Southfork National Park lies an aircraft lover’s dream, the Big Southfork Airpark.

The airpark is a residential, fly-in community for people who own aircraft. But it’s different from many airparks across the country, says Bill Armstrong, who developed the community and lives there himself. “Most airparks are built around a private runway. But we’re attached to a world-class rural airport with a 5,500-foot-long paved runway and a maintenance facility.”

This airpark offers trees and natural beauty most airparks don’t. “We don’t allow people to take down a bunch of trees, and we didn’t do it when we developed it,” Armstrong says. “That’s the advantage of having the airport adjacent to us.”

About 90 of the airpark’s 140 available lots have been sold, and nearly 30 homes have been built, he says. Most people are from out of state, and many are retired. Others, like Armstrong, run businesses from the community. “A lot of folks are blown away that this rural community has fiber broadband,” he says. “We almost take it for granted, but some of these people don’t even have that in the bigger cities where they’re from.”

The airpark has helped the rest of the county, too, says Hank Duvall, manager of Scott Municipal Airport. “It’s been a great addition to the airport,” he says. “It’s increased the tax base and benefited the community in so many ways. The people who live there have spent a lot of money here.”

Content provided with permission from HTC.