Perry Airport Manager, Jonathan Walter, and his wife, Gretchen Walter, want the community to use the airport. In the last year, the couple arrived from Independence, IA, a location in which their business “Walter Aviation Inc.” began and now continues to expand in Perry.
Together, they want to create involvement between the operation and the community.
“We want them out here to look at airplanes, go for rides and experience [it] – just come out and watch airplanes,” said Perry Municipal Airport Manager, Jonathan Walter. “There’s some days in the summer you can sit out here as long as you want, and you’re going to constantly see airplanes going.”
“It’s that busy.”
Joining Perry’s sky
Perry’s airport is located a few miles outside of Perry and currently has two runways which are “paved with approaches while the other turf is a runway,” according to information from the City of Perry.
“We brought in some new services that weren’t in here before and we’re trying to expand some of the services,” Walter said. “The airport is primed and that’s what we’re here for is to help supplement that expansion and the growth of the airport and utilizing the airport as a service.”
Originally from Independence, Walter started his business in his hometown and soon after took over the airport. Walter later learned about Perry’s opportunity during his visit at the State Aviation Conference.
After speaking with City Administrator, Sven Peterson, along with other members of the Airport Commission Board, Walter decided to move his business to Perry.
Although others had expressed interest in moving Walter’s business to their city, Walter wanted to bring all components of his business to one location.
“We wanted to do the whole package and Perry had the best fit for the size,” Walter said.
With a number of elements making up the Walter Aviation Inc. business, the Walters have brought in flight training, charter flights, advertisement opportunities with banner flights, as well as basic aircraft maintenance, aircraft sales, scenic tours, airplane rides, and more.
Besides offering new amenities to the public, Walter caters to several seasonal aspects of the airport’s daily operation.
“The main thing is just the basic operations of the airport,” Walter explains about his Manager role. “[It’s] keeping track of the pilots that are based here, the air crafts that are based here, and transiting air crafts that are coming and going.”
In addition, Walter tends to the airport grounds during each seasonal change.
“The city partners with us,” Walter said. “We mow the grass in the summer, and out at the airport you have all of that concrete and all of the grass surrounding.”
“The city’s done well, they’ve managed to utilize the land probably as good as you can in terms of getting a lot of good farmland; they lease a lot of that land back out and put it into a farmland, and it helps generate income for the airport for operations.”
Besides catering to the grounds, Walter handles communication between pilots who trickle into the Perry airport.
“We have a weather station up here that we have to maintain and make sure that’s operational,” Walter said. “We’ve got a radio and we communicate with air crafts that are coming and passing through; if they need anything or services they can let us know that way.”
Air traffic depends upon the weather, Walter describes.
“It’s very seasonal and it always very much depends on the day,” Walter said. “We do have an aircraft that will visit for business in town and so those are the ones you see during the week the most - the business-related.”
“On the weekends and the really nice days, that’s when you see the guys that just like to fly for fun that have their own airplane; you get a really nice Saturday or Sunday - every hanger out here is open.”
In order to keep track of how many air crafts are flying into the Perry airport, a monthly report is created in accordance to a published traffic count.
“It’s a real estimate,” Walter said.
The airport is utilized, Gretchen Walter says.
“That’s kind of a neat thing to this airport - everybody that’s on the field actually flies,” Walter said. “A lot of these small airports around that [people think] are kind of excessive storage units.”
On a nice day, people fly.
Before the Walter’s moved their business to Perry, the City of Perry has worked towards developing a list of items to improve upon at the airport.
The condition of the runway at the airport needs to be renovated, City Administrator Sven Peterson explains.
“Over the last 5 years it’s gone downhill really quickly, and it’s mostly due to the concrete that’s haunting us today,” Peterson said.
The concrete used was previously residing at the McCreary Center parking lot, and is deteriorating from the bottom up, making it impractical to cover in asphalt, Peterson said.
“We’ll be shifting the runway and then reconstructing it there, and then hopefully, we’re working on getting an extra 1,500 feet to length the runway to 5,500 feet,” Peterson said.
Walter highlights the proximity of where Perry’s airport sits alongside others in the area.
“Our proximity to Des Moines - we’ve already seen this just in the six to seven months we’ve been here,” Walter said.
“The demand from Ankeny, Des Moines, West Des Moines, the core traffic that are based there, they want to either base here or they want to utilize the airport for more direct access and come into this area.”
“They need that longer runway for the larger air crafts.”
The project has been in the planning stages for around 10 years, City Administrator Sven Peterson says.
“All of these projects start that far out just to get it on the future for their budgets as well as the city budget,” Peterson said. “There’s a lot of hoops to jump through, a lot of justification to get the new runway.”
According to Peterson, 90 percent of the project is fully-funded, which leaves the local match with only 10 percent to fund.
“When you think about the economic impact and the investment that it is, I think it’s a great investment return on the community,” Peterson said.
The ultimate goal of the airport expansion is to continue to put Perry on the map.
“The reason for that expansion is to accommodate the larger corporate air crafts,” Walter said.
“We have couple here now that can operate out here, but it’s a little hairy on certain days and especially on some days they just can’t because of weather and things.”
“Big airports are nice [because] they have some features that small airports can’t [have], but all they’re trying to do is get in and do their business and go. We can provide 90-95 percent of the same services the larger airports.”
According to Walter, the airport has a cycle in which what is taken from the airport is later given back.
“All of the money spent here, even all of the “hobby guys that fly,” when they buy gas, they’re funding that system to the pay for that runway expansion,” Walter said. “I like when the users are supplementing their own process, and I just bring that up because that’s not always known from a community standpoint.”
Catering to the airport will also impact the community in a positive way, Peterson highlights.
“As the airport grows, it will drive demand for operation,” Peterson said. “Those people are staying at the hotel, buying fuel here in and in town, and they’re probably stopping at grocery stores and they’re around town shopping.”
“When you really start to think about it, we’ve got Microsoft, Facebook and Apple now with data centers - it’s probably closer and more efficient to fly into Perry to keep a low profile.”