Despite tough economic times, South Albany Airport soaring

Recent years have seen many improvements to privately owned runway

You might have recently read something about recreational and hobby industries not doing so well. The recession is taking its toll in areas people happily spent their money in boom times but now are pulling away from.

General aviation is, unsurprisingly, one of those areas. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's Pilot magazine reports the ranks of pilot students is shrinking to its lowest levels in years. According to a 2009 USA Today poll, many general aviation airports operate at a loss, relying on public funds to stay open or fading into insolvency.

But while the industry picture is dim, at the South Albany Airport in Selkirk, nothing could be further from the truth, said manager and owner Ted Zabinski.

Things are picking up. Business is picking up, he said. "A lot of these small, privately owned airports are closing down."

Today, roughly 50 small, privately owned propeller planes are based at South Albany, 10 of which are parked under a new shade hangar that was just finished last year. Like a gas station overhang, it's a cost-effective solution to keeping the planes out of the elements.

"Everybody loves the new shade hangars," Zabinski said. "It keeps the hail, sun and snow off of the airplanes."

But the shade hangar is only the most recent of the improvements the airport has seen in recent years. The airport has been in operation since 1947, when it was not much more than a strip of grass on a sod farming operation. In time, an asphalt runway was installed, and was widened in 2000 to 60 feet.

In 2005, security fencing was upgraded to circle the entire 60 acres of the airport. Electronic keypads allow authorized pilots entry.

It was an appreciated upgrade for the pilots who house their planes there, and not just for security reasons. Situated in a rural area of town, deer could sometimes make their way onto the runway, which made night landings a bit more white knuckle, said pilot Steve Lopinski.

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