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Pilots often bristle when hearing that the government wants to “get involved” in aviation. We think more red tape, more obtuse regulations, and additional financial burden will be coming along shortly. Bucking that stereotype is the Buckeye Mayor, Eric Orsborn. He is not only a staunch advocate for aviation, but he’s also looking at how to increase the general aviation footprint in his city on the Western edge of the Phoenix metroplex. Buckeye Municipal Airport (KBXK) sits just South of the I-10 freeway and Luke Air Force Base Class D airspace, and just West of Goodyear Municipal Airport’s (KGYR) Class D airspace. Despite the complex airspace, BXK sees approximately 150 operations per day, per Airnav data. Much of that are external flight schools taking advantage of a non-towered field for takeoff and landing practice. Mayor Orsborn is looking to make the airport attractive for GA pilots and corporate tenants to base aircraft at KBXK through a comprehensive approach of infrastructure and facility improvements.

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A longtime resident of the nearby Verrado community, Orsborn is rooted in the area. He operates a Buckeye-based construction business that focuses on land development across the state and saw an opportunity to lead the city forward. He served on the city council for 10 years before being elected to mayor in 2020. During his time on the council, Orsborn worked to earn his Private Pilot License. Since earning his wings in 2017, he’s accumulated approximately 500 hours and is currently working on his Instrument rating. Orsborn is the proud owner of a 1998 Cessna 172R and will soon be taking delivery of a newer Cirrus SR22 for higher performance. Of course, he bases at BXK. He’s found that aviation makes the state much smaller. He can now visit remote construction sites and crews, yet still be back in the office the same day. Travel for family has also gained flexibility through being able to fly on his own schedule.

Orsborn’s enthusiasm for aviation flows into his role as mayor. He sees the airport as an economic engine for his fast-growing community. US Census data reports that Buckeye grew faster than any other city in the nation from 2010 to 2020 with an 80% increase in population! With this population increase came the addition of thousands of businesses and corporations. Many of these would, or could, use the airport to facilitate business travel in GA aircraft. The newly created gargantuan warehouse farms that have sprung up in the West Valley have created an opportunity for airport growth to expedite shipments of goods. Many who settled in Buckeye are also pilots as evidenced by the growing waiting list for the limited T-hangars. While the airport appears sleepy compared to the training bases of Deer Valley, Falcon Field, and Chandler Municipal, KBXK has all the external demands needed to make a municipal airport successful.

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Orsborn isn’t the only proponent of aviation in Buckeye - he reports that his current city council is also very supportive of improving the airport. He and his team were instrumental in the relocation of the Copperstate Fly-In from Falcon Field to Buckeye in 2019. The city had been hosting the annual Buckeye Air Fair as sort of an open house to the community. Local businesses participated and community members came out to see the airport and enjoy some food and drink. While attendance was decent, it lacked the entertainment draw. When presented the opportunity to host the Copperstate Fly-In, the decision was made to hold the Air Fair in conjunction with the fly in. It was an instant success. Copperstate has long been a draw to pilots in the Southwest as a place to gather, talk aviation, shop aviation products, and learn in forums. The Air Fair now includes a full airshow with world-class performers. In 2019, the parking lot was nearly full, aircraft parking was nearly full, and the RV lot was packed with overnighters. The unexpected success of the joint event prompted the city to invest in improvements in airport grounds through increased parking for cars and RVs, but additional aircraft parking, more restroom facilities and improving the general layout for 2020. The result was fantastic. Over 30,000 aviation enthusiasts flooded the airport grounds. Families loved the games and attractions on the Air Fair side, pilots loved the traditional Copperstate Fly In, and everybody loved the afternoon air show. While the 2021 event was cancelled due to pandemic concerns, the 2022 event will be even larger. Held February 17-20 2022, the air show performers are being finalized, vendors are lining up and pilots are planning to finally get together again.

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Mayor Orsborn and select city leaders travelled to Sun N Fun in Lakeland, Florida, as well as Airventure in Oshkosh to see how the cities manage large aviation events. Copious notes were taken by the team. While they certainly enjoyed the events, they returned with significant details on how a city can support aviation events for the benefit of all. Copperstate Fly-In and the Buckeye Air Fair will never replace either Sun N Fun or Airventure, nor is there ambition to do so. They are each unique in their own regard, but Mayor Orsborn and his team are working to ensure KBXK is prepared to accommodate the event as it continues to grow. When asked if he is able to offer guidance or leadership to other cities, Orsborn said he promotes it wherever he can. He understands how integral aviation is in the complexity of an economy and is sharing that knowledge within his network of government leaders.

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To attract corporate tenants and aviation-related businesses, the airport needs to improve the infrastructure. The city has taken the first large steps towards increasing the capabilities and attractiveness of the airport to local pilots and corporations looking to base there. A $3.5M infrastructure improvement plan is underway to bring water and fire lines to the airport and surrounding property. Another $2.5M is set aside for T-hangar construction. The city owns, or has access to, land surrounding the airport to add more hangars, taxiways, ramp space, terminals, etc… as the population growth continues to outpace the rest of the nation. The airport’s Master Plan was last updated in 2007, but then largely shelved due to the recession. Plans were again put on hold briefly during the pandemic. While not all aspects of the plan are still valid, much of it is and Mayor Orsborn is committed to ensuring KBXK is open for business. So much so that the city is self-funding an update of the Master Plan, rather than wait for the FAA to assist.

We’ve all heard that the only thing certain in aviation is uncertainty. Recessions, pandemics, unemployment, remote working, and explosive growth have all had unexpected results on general aviation in Arizona, some negative and some positive. From the perspective of the APA, we find it refreshing that a city leader recognizes the positive impact a GA airport has on a community. Investment does not typically improve stability and financial health immediately and is sometimes difficult to justify. We look forward to seeing Buckeye lean forward and invest in the airport, and we invite other city leaders to reach out and learn from Buckeye’s example.

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