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Now arriving at Wittman Regional Airport:

Brand-new T-hangars and other enhancements

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October 3, 2023

OSHKOSH – Each year, the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh is put in the world’s spotlight during the annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh event.

“We’re remiss if we don’t talk about AirVenture when we talk about Wittman Regional Airport, as it’s the largest fly-in in the entire world and it’s right here in Oshkosh,” Airport Director Jim Schell said. “It puts us on the map internationally.”

However, once the visitors from 90-plus countries who fly in for AirVenture return home, Schell said the general aviation airport “is a breathing and living airport.”

“We are an economic engine for the community, and if we didn’t have this support year-round, we wouldn’t have AirVenture,” he said.

Though 25% of the airport’s operations (which are defined as takeoffs or landings) within a calendar year occur during AirVenture, the other 75% – 60,000 operations – occur during the rest of the year.

Schell said the Winnebago County-owned airport, and its base tenants, make an impact on the aviation industry and the economic vitality of the region.

Furthermore, he said its strong flight training presence, including hosting the Fox Valley Technical College aviation program, is a great resource for future pilots.

Schell said the airport’s willingness to embrace cutting-edge technologies and an innovative mindset have helped sustain it through the decades.

“We have massive name recognition because of AirVenture, where people simply say, ‘I’m going to Oshkosh,’” Schell said. “But, marketing sparks more than that. It is about being associated with innovation.”

First, a bit of history
The airport’s origins date back to 1927 as the Oshkosh Airport.

It became the Winnebago County Regional Airport in the early 1930s and then the Wittman Regional Airport in 1970 in honor of the airport’s first manager, Steve Wittman – an aircraft designer, racer and aviation pioneer.

His efforts included bringing the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) to Oshkosh as he was involved with that organization since its inception in 1953. 

Along the journey, Wittman Regional Airport served as a commercial airline hub, with the airport stopping commercial service in 2003.

Since then, Schell said the airport has upped its game in the innovation department beginning with a series of infrastructure investments.

A major taxiway reconstruction was completed in 2020.

In June 2021, the airport opened a new, $5.5 million modern general aviation terminal that replaced both the commercial service passenger terminal and the former general aviation terminal. 

The most recent project – which has a completion date set for late November – Schell said is well underway. 

The project includes the construction of 20 new T-hangars, the first in about 20 years.

Here is what the T-hangar at Wittman Regional Airport looked like in February of this year – before construction started. Photo Courtesy of Wittman Regional Airport

Schell said the airport identified a need for heated T-hangar space several years ago.

Prior to the project, the airport, he said, had about 174 aircraft on the field, with half in airport-owned units and a waiting list of 60 prospective tenants.

In addition to the two, new 10-unit T-hangar buildings, Schell said the project includes the building of six pad sites for the development of private hangars if desired.

Schell said the $4.3 million project is part of the airport’s master plan, which is now entering its fourth and final year.

Schell said the hangar project is one piece of the puzzle. 

“It’s a piece of a broader, overall initiative to increase our hangar space, as well as redevelop areas in dire need of redevelopment,” he said. “It helps us to be a strong airport with the facilities that folks are looking for and (that are necessary) to stand the test of time. It’s the first step as we also have a need for transient users such as bigger corporate types.”

A bit more project details
Schell said $1.3 million of the project is funded by a variety of federal and state grants – which paid for the demolition of the old building and asphalt, grading, taxi land construction and apron construction costs.

An additional $3 million was bonded by Winnebago County to be used for the hangar construction, specifically.

Schell said current tenants were offered the opportunity to rent the hangars first, and they are all claimed by signed and executed lease agreements approved by the aviation committee.

“Many of our existing tenants were looking for an upgrade, and once they take their spaces, their old spaces will be available to others on the waiting list,” he said.

Rent on the new, heated T-hangars starts at $350 per month, plus utilities.

All the hangars, Schell said, are rented by private individuals who own smaller-scale planes that fit into hangars.

As for the master plan in its totality, Schell said it has focused on ensuring short-, medium- and long-term needs of the airport – from general aviation facilities to hangar development and land use planning.

Businesses take off at the airport
Schell said several businesses operate at the airport year-round with a variety of missions and goals.

The common denominator among many (but not all) of them, he said, is aviation – be it Basler Turbo Conversions (BT67 special mission aircraft manufacturer), Aviation Services flight instruction, New View Technologies (windshield repair/replacement, avionics an aircraft repair/maintenance) or Sonex Aircraft LLC (homebuilt and kit aircraft manufacturer). 

“The largest and most famous base tenant is the EAA, which has their headquarters and museum (at the airport),” he said. “They’re here year-round with 200 employees. But Basler Turbo is the second biggest employer on the field with upward of 80 folks.”

In addition, Schell said, Oshkosh Aviation Park sits adjacent to the airport, featuring 80 acres of aviation ground primed for development.

The T-hangar construction project continues to make progress. The project is expected to be completed around Thanksgiving. Photo Courtesy of Wittman Regional Airport

The park, he said, is a joint effort between Winnebago County and the City of Oshkosh focused on bringing new business to Oshkosh – in the aerospace sector in particular.

Schell said the land has access to 8,000 square feet of primary runway and 6,000 square feet of secondary runway, making it feasible for “anything to land here, so we can attract a wide variety of people in the aeronautical world.”

The greenfield site, Schell said, is prepped with all utilities. 

“We are a physical location and a city tied together by that name,” he said. “When marketing the business park, we’re looking at massive name recognition – not only being associated with AirVenture but also innovation and a willingness to embrace cutting-edge technologies.”

Incoming innovation
One of those cutting-edge technologies looking to descend into Oshkosh, Schell said, is the first Volatus eVTOL vertiport.

Put simply, he said, it will allow for electric aircraft takeoff and landing, with eVTOL being an emerging technology among aircraft developers.

“They call it the ‘Uber of the air,’” he said. “It’s about hopping on one of these electric aircraft to go a short distance. It’s another mode of transportation we can offer the general public in the not-too-distant future.”

The appeal, Schell said, is in the electric-fueled aircraft which is quiet, smaller and sustainable. 

“It might be you and three close friends on it, and is a great example of exactly the type of thing we’re trying to find a home for here in Oshkosh,” he said. “We are trying to embrace and make a home for things like this in our airport in Oshkosh where another airport wouldn’t embrace those emerging technologies.”

Pursuing this is pending FAA approval, Schell said, and then infrastructure work to supply a network like this will need to be addressed as well.

He said the vertiport is anticipated to include a terminal with amenities, a landing pad and a vehicle-agnostic charging station.

Alongside the development and innovation, Schell said Wittman Regional Airport is also seeking intentional ways to connect with the community at large through more public events – be it EAA chapter pancake breakfasts, food truck Fridays or other means.

The goal, he said, is to expose more community members to the airport to educate them about what’s happening there as well as to pique students’ interest in potential aviation careers.

“We’ve had a busy last four to five years, and we want to spend the next year executing even more public events,” he said.

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