'Little guys' welcome Eastern Iowa Airport's self-service fuel pump

Officials hope new Cedar Rapids offering brings in new users

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Pilots now can fuel up on their own in Cedar Rapids with the Thursday opening of a 12,000-gallon self-service aviation fuel pump at a The Eastern Iowa Airport.

Construction on the 100LL, or low lead, avgas facility began in the spring and cost nearly $450,000, with the Iowa Department of Transportation covering more than half the cost with a $267,825 grant.

The new feature fulfills a request from general aviation pilots based at the airport, which has 126 planes based there, the highest number of any airport in Iowa.

Previously, pilots would refuel at the assisted station at the airport’s Fixed Base Operating facility, or they would travel to nearby self-service fueling stations, airport director Marty Lenss said.

“The way the industry is, it’s become a basic customer service element for airport customers,” Lenss said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility. “The general aviation group was asking for one for a number of years. Self-service, it’s just more efficient.”

Mike Jimenez, president of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 33, said he appreciates the convenience and affordability a self-service pump allows.

“My first ride in a small airplane was based here, and we went up and went down to Washington for fuel,” Jimenez said. “It was surprising to me that you take that kind of flight just to get some fuel, and that it was economically feasible to do so. I think I can speak for all pilots when I say it’s always good to have options whether it’s in the air or on the ground. It’s a sign that even though our operations pale in comparison to the air carrier operations that happen here, the airport still cares about the little guys.”

Lenss said the airport hopes to sell 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of fuel over the next year. The gas is currently priced at $4.10 a gallon.

The self-service pump could potentially bring in more pilots who don’t currently refuel in Cedar Rapids, which ultimately benefits the entire airport, he said.

“Every tower operation at this airport is so vitally important to air traffic counts, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) funding,” Lenss said. “Should our tower counts fall too far, you can start impacting the hours of operation for the tower.”

Tim Busch, who operates the Iowa Flight Training school at the airport, said the self-service pump also benefits area businesses who depend on the airport for easy travel.

“Four of the top ten reasons to establish a business in a community is because of an airport and connection to the rest of the world,” Busch said. “General aviation contributes a lot to small businesses being able to come to a community. What I’ve started here is a flight-training-only business. I did that because flight training is the basis for all of that: where the pilots come from, where the flight training comes from, where the business community starts is in the flight training community.”

Lenss agreed.

“We want to have the facilities here to attract business ... so that we can be healthy and strong, provide that regional economic impact,” he said. “At the end of the day the airport really services the entire region, not with just the airport, but with cargo.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8516; makayla.tendall@thegazette.com

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