Jill Tallman

So long, Kutztown

January 30, 2009 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

It wasn’t the easiest place to land or take off, thanks to a dip in the paved runway that could catch you unaware if you weren’t expecting it. But Kutztown Airport (N31) in Pennsylvania nonetheless was a favorite of area pilots. Sadly, it’s destined to become another shopping center. The airport closes tomorrow. The property (which includes an adjacent diner and mobile home park) has been sold.

Two winters ago I landed at N31, enjoyed a gut-busting brunch at the diner, and watched Amish families in horse-drawn buggies and Amish teenagers on bicycles hurry along Kutztown Pike, presumably on their way to Sunday service. Here’s a YouTube video of another pilot in a Cessna 172 making a much better approach and landing than I did. So long, Kutztown; wish I had known you better.

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7 Responses to “So long, Kutztown”

  1. Amy Says:

    Thanks for the tribute, Jill. Although the land has not yet been officially sold, it is in the process of being sold, for an alleged 14.5 million dollars, which is outrageously high for both this area and this economic climate. I worked at Kutztown Airport part-time as a pilot and CFI for about 15 years and today I will help to move the last of our stuff into storage with a very heavy heart. For those of you who have visited our airport to eat at the diner, please understand that the property owners, who are Greek foreign nationals, at one time ran the diner, but it is now run by their cousin. Not a dollar spent at the diner ever went towards maintaining the airport.

    For the large numbers of pilots who enjoy flying out to a destination, but avoid certain airports due to landing fees, please take a minute to understand what a landing fee pays for. Runway paving and marking, grass mowing, snow plowing, electricity for runway lights, beacons, and obstruction lighting, and pay for the people who maintain the airport for a transient pilot to use. I regularly would fly to Wings Field to visit my Mom, and was happy to pay them $5 for the convenience of being able to land close to her house.

    In 1999, PennDOT estimated 43,100 operations per year at Kutztown. If even 1/10 of them happened to be transient pilots and paid the $5 landing fee, that would have been a significant help towards the astronomical costs of maintaining the airport. At Kutztown, probably only 1 in 500 transient pilots ever paid a landing fee, which was always waived if a purchase was made at the FBO. Unfortunately, there were some who were approached by airport staff to pay the landing fee (that was clearly marked in the A/FD) who were hostile and refused to pay their fair share.

    It was heartwarming to see so much support for the airport from local residents and business owners that were not pilots, but in the end, the airport is private property. The township officials paid lip service to the residents, but never had the guts to commit to the process of purchasing the airport. Sadly, despite the fact that in recent years, there were millions of State dollars budgeted for the purchase and improvment of the airport, the township did not take the opportunity to organize an Airport Authority. This Authority could have received the funds from the State and given the property owners fair market value for the property and protected it for future generations.

    Now we have lost our airport. Although the Medevac helicopter based there will be staying temporarily, the airport itself will soon be converted to a heliport and will no longer have its unique and challenging runway. Some aircraft owners were forced to sell their planes, as there is a severe shortage of affordable hangar space in this region.

    I will miss so many things about Kutztown Airport, but mostly the quiet evenings when the air was glass calm, and the orange sun would cast long shadows on the ground. I could look out the side window of my Taylorcraft and see its shadow racing along the grass of the runway just before touchdown. Once the sun was set, a few of us would sit around on the porch and do some hangar flying. I am very grateful for the opportunities that I had. I made a few great friends and had so many good years of flying there.

    There is no other place on earth like Kutztown Airport.

  2. Dave Says:

    What a shame. I used to fly in there for lunch from PNE with my old ’59 150 quite often. It was a little challenging with the sloping runway, but not too bad. You had to be aware of Philadelphia Glider Council operations when flying south and the ultralights, but it was a great little airport and I’m going to miss it.

  3. Zev Says:

    I visited Kutzatown a couple of times and found it to be a truly lovely place. So sorry to see it go.

  4. David Heberling Says:

    I hope the same thing does not happen at KRJD (Ridgely Airpark). Caroline County has shown an interest in buying it, but is moving at a glacial pace. The FAA had notified the county that it had money left in last year’s budget, but the county would have had to claim it by Feb.1, 2009 or lose it. The county made an offer to the private owner who was insulted by the offer. The county is used to buying farmland and does not look at the airport any differently. Of course, in this economic climate, I am not sure what the airport is worth.

  5. Jill W. Tallman Says:

    Great comments, all.

    Amy: Appreciate your perspective as a former instructor and your comments on the landing fees. Please know that I wasn’t trying to prematurely pull the trigger by characterizing the property as having been sold. All accounts I read were that it was a done deal.

    David: Thanks for the head’s up about Ridgely Airpark. Was there not some interest in making it an aviation community? Perhaps I am thinking of another location.

  6. Donald J. Sutherland Says:

    It has been more than a few years since Kutztown Airport was my destination while my son attended the University there. One of my requirements for each of our children was that they go to school near an airport. N31 could not have been better. You got out of the plane, walked a couple of hundred yards and found yourself in the middle of the campus. Another hundred yeards and you were in town. No hassle with car rentals at this small airport.Easy in – easy out.

    This trip was a one hour plus flight by air and a nightmare by car for us. It was, in fact, an airport that got your attention when landing. Takeoffs were always interesting on the northbound runway with a house sitting dead center off the departure end along with power lines. My partner in the airplane made his first grass strip landing (RW27 as I recall) at N31. He did a beautiful job. And the diner was always good for a meal or simply a cup of coffee. The food was good and the service friendly.

    My daughter went to school in Virginia. Our route of flight for her four years took us over the Allentown and East Texas VORs. (She too had an airport in her College town but not nearly as convienent as N31.) Kutztown, with its storage tanks, was always noted on our way through the Allentown area. Of course, travel to the AOPA Convention takes us this way every year now.

    Sorry to see the airport go. It brings back lots of good memories. My son may have gone to college there even if the airport did not exist (it was a perfect fit for him in several ways) however it would have been much less convienent getting to see him.

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