By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald
Thanks to a $670,000 grant from the Texas Transportation Commission, Killeen's Skylark Field will soon construct a new hangar for an air ambulance service.
"The hangar will be 6,400 square feet and configured to support a medivac helicopter service," said John Sutton, Killeen's director of airport services, adding the hangar also could support fixed-wing aircraft.
Houston-based PHI Air Medical, which operates 44 bases throughout nine states, has maintained a base at Skylark for the past decade.
Representatives from PHI could not be reached for comment; however, local medical professionals said the company provides a vital service to the area.
"PHI is one of our major partners for transporting severely injured patients throughout the Central Texas area," said Dr. Matt Davis, trauma director for Scott & White Hospital in Temple. "We're the only level one trauma center between Austin and Dallas. Receiving care at a level one trauma center has been shown over and over again to save lives. PHI is instrumental in doing this."
Skylark obtained the funds by electing to hold an annual allowance from the transportation commission for four years.
"It's a grant we've been working on for some time," said Sutton. "For
general aviation, the Federal Aviation Administration gives the state however much in funding, and the state doles it out."
The funding, according to Sutton, works on a 90-10 split. Through holding its annual allotment from the transportation commission, the airport banked $600,000 with the state, which was released as a grant in December. Killeen added the remaining $66,667 from its aviation fund, which is not tied to the city's general fund.
Sutton said Skylark's annual allotment is approximately $150,000 a year, with the money usually intended for work on runways and taxiways. However, the money can be used to construct a hangar if everything else is in working order.
Last year, the airport's runways, taxiways, lighting and other facilities were rehabilitated, freeing up the funds for the hangar.
"Skylark is in tip-top shape. It's a first-class general aviation airport," said Sutton.
He estimated that Skylark can have as many as 80 flights a day, usually by private, fixed-wing aircraft. He said companies like PHI, which accounts for 40 percent of yearly fuel sales at Skylark, help keep general aviation airports funded in lean times.
"There's no general aviation airports in the United States doing the business they did 10 years ago because of fuel prices," he said.
To Sutton, having an available air rescue base has a value beyond money.
"There's a benefit to the community having a helicopter rescue service," he said. "You just can't put a price on that."
Sutton said the airport is in the process of choosing a consultant for the hangar, and work should start sometime this year.
Contact Sean Wardwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7552. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcity.