Kutztown Airport's flight school will close in August."It's a very hard thing for me to stop something I've been doing for over 50 years. It's hard on my students and the pilots who fly here," said owner Earl Binder, of Breinigsville.
Binder has been trying to preserve the airport since he took over ownership 15 years ago. Previously, we was a partner for 12 years.
In a letter to employees, Binder wrote, "Over the past 15 years, the airport never was a very profitable business, although I hoped that some day it would at least become self-sustaining."
Last year, Binder said the airport was successful in gaining legislative support that led to more than $11 million being put on the state budget for acquisition and improvement, but those funds have not been released yet.
"I guess it is because of my love of flying and aviation that I allowed myself to suffer great financial loss, in hopes that the state would come through with the funding needed," he wrote.
In order to keep the airport open as long as possible, Binder will close the flight school in August and liquidate the business through Startman Bros. Auctioneers on Aug. 9.
After the liquidation, the airport will continue to provide maintenance services, tie down and hangar rentals and keep the runway open as long as possible. Also, fuel prices, tie down and hangar rentals will increase and there will be a fee to transient pilots.
Binder has been flying at the Kutztown Airport since 1952.
"What do I like about flying? Being up in the air, being closer to Mother Nature," he said.
When he learned to fly at an airport in Trexlertown, now the Trexlertown Mall, there were many small airports in the region, including one on 5th Street in Reading, Bethlehem, Stroudsburg and New Hanover - all closed down for development.
His favorite airport was one in Montgomeryville. It is now the Montgomeryville Mall.
"Fuel costs are killing aviation. Insurance has gotten to the point where it's almost impossible to afford," said Binder.
Established by Carl Bieber and Harold Miller, the airport has a long history in Kutztown dating back to 1945.
"Years ago, it was a paint shop. There were 18 DC3s owned by movie stars and celebrities that were brought here and painted," he said.
Out front, a bronze plaque honors those two local men and their dream. The quote etched there says, "Because I fly, I laugh more than the other men. I have dreamed among the clouds and felt the blue on my lap. Because I fly, I envy no man on earth."
Binder said this quote sums up how flying makes him feel.
A number of his students went on to accomplish big things. One student became a bush pilot in Alaska. Three are airline captains. Another has become a chief pilot for Continental and a glider pilot has set some records.
What will he miss the most? "All of the friends and people I've met and the people I've taught over the years," said Binder.
One of those people is dispatcher and office manager Stella Tobin who has worked at the airport for the past few years.
"You can see how people use it and love it because people love aviation. There's a lot of love for the airport. Everyone's so upset," said Tobin.
Her son, Anton, 10, also loves the airport. He particularly enjoyed going up in a small, yellow airplane called The Cub. His favorite part was looking down at the wide open space below.
Student pilot Valerie Hess, of Mohrsville, flew for the first time in a Cessna plane with instructor Gerry Kimak, of Northampton, at the controls.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," said Hess, who was given her flight lessons as a 50th birthday present.
She was sad to hear about the flight school closing.
"I think it's always sad to see small town facilities close," said Hess.
Who owns the property? Kutztown Enterprises Inc. said representative Joseph A. O'Keefe, of O'Keefe & Sher in Kutztown, clarifying there is no active listing of the property for sale for development.
"While we can mourn its loss for nostalgic reasons, the reality is that the Reading Airport is mere miles down the road and far better equipped to meet today's safety and security regulations, as well as the needs of recreational flyers. And, despite millions of dollars being dedicated to its development, the Reading Airport remains under-utilized," said O'Keefe. "What made sense for recreational flyers in the 1950s no longer works today. That is the reality of regionalization and the palpable growth that the Northeastern Berks community has realized over the past 15 to 20 years."