Salina Regional Airport

Image by/from United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Salina Regional Airport (IATA: SLN, ICAO: KSLN, FAA LID: SLN), formerly Salina Municipal Airport, is a public airport three miles southwest of Salina, in Saline County, Kansas. The airport is owned by the Salina Airport Authority. It is used for general aviation and is served by one passenger airline, United Express, subsidized by the Essential Air Service program.

The Salina Regional Airport’s current EAS carrier is SkyWest Airlines, operating as United Express.

Salina Regional Airport is the home of the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus Aviation Program with degrees available in Airport Management, Aviation Certificates, Aviation Electronics, Aviation Maintenance Management, Aviation Safety, Professional Pilot, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design and Integration, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight and Operations.

The airport is on the site of the former Schilling Air Force Base (previously known as Smoky Hill Army Air Field and Smoky Hill Air Force Base).

The construction of military airfields after the Pearl Harbor Attack that caused the entry of the United States into World War II resulted in the construction of the Smoky Hill Army Air Field (AAF) on 2,600 acres (1,052 ha), southwest of Salina, Kansas. The first unit associated with the airfield was the 376th Base Headquarters and Air Base Squadron, whose engineers first laid out the base beginning in April 1942. Construction began in May 1942 with the aid of nearly 7,000 construction workers. The airfield was officially activated on 1 September 1942 and was assigned to the II Bomber Command, Second Air Force.

Enough construction was completed that the 376th moved into facilities on 10 September. The first aircraft to arrive, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, arrived later that month and were assigned to the 346th Bombardment Group. The mission of Smoky Hill AAF was that of a Second Phase Heavy Bomber Operational Training Unit (OTU). Combat groups formed in First Phase training were reassigned to the airfield, training focused to teamwork of the combat crew was stressed: bombing, gunnery, and instrument flight missions were performed by full crews. Upon completion, the groups moved on to third phase the final level of training before overseas deployment to the combat theaters.

The 366th was joined by the 400th Bombardment Group in the training mission at Smoky Hill AAF on 31 July 1943. The 366th concentrated on B-17 Flying Fortress training; the 400th on B-24 Liberator training.

The airport was the takeoff and landing point for the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, flown by Steve Fossett in the first nonstop, non-refueled solo circumnavigation of the earth from February 28 to March 3, 2005. Fossett’s later nonstop non-refueled solo circumnavigation in the GlobalFlyer was also Salina to Salina, from March 14 to March 17, 2006, setting a new record for greatest distance traveled on a closed course.

Salina Regional Airport has memorialized the records set by Steve Fossett with Fossett Plaza, located at 2035 Beechcraft Road, Salina, Kansas 67401. The plaza features a memorial, seating area, plaques with the story of the Global Flyer and Steve Fossett, and a viewing area to observe the many flight operations at KSLN.

The airport used to be served by Great Lakes Airlines under the Essential Air Service program, however currently it is served by United Express.

Salina Regional Airport covers 2,862 acres (1,158 ha) at an elevation of 1,288 feet (393 m) above mean sea level. It has four asphalt runways: 17/35 is 12,300 by 150 feet (3,749 x 46 m); 12/30 is 6,510 by 100 feet (1,984 x 30 m); 18/36 is 4,301 by 75 feet (1,311 x 23 m); 4/22 is 3,648 by 75 feet (1,112 x 23 m).

In the year ending January 30, 2014 the airport had 91,101 aircraft operations from general aviation, air taxi, military, and scheduled commercial.

Possessed of such a long runway and located approximately 85 miles southeast from the continental center of the United States, many corporate and private jets stop at this airport to refuel and allow passengers to have a break, earning Salina the moniker “America’s Fuel Stop.” Avflight Salina is responsible for all fueling and ground handling of transient and military aircraft.

KSLN also hosts a variety of Forward Operating Location (FOL) activity and has been the operating site for many missions by NASA, NOAA, Wings of Freedom, Commemorative Air Force, Virgin Atlantic Global

A report from the 40th Bombardment Wing in 1953 described the problem. “One of the foremost and the first problems encountered was an excessive amount of solvent being required to properly wash and clean aircraft,” the report said. “Some method of reducing the amount of solvent used was needed. This problem was met by installing a system of settling tanks … Approximately 12,000 to 14,000 gallons of solvent are used per month.”

In 1989, the Salina School District unearthed three of later 107 underground fuel storage tanks on its vo-tech property. It first became known that Trichlorethylene (TCE), a degreaser used to clean aircraft and a carcinogen, as well as other compounds disposed of on the former base, have migrated into the soil and groundwater, forming a toxic plume. 107 underground storage were removed –
In 1999, the US Army Corps of Engineers published its first remedial investigation.
In 2005, the Corps shared the draft of a second remedial investigation of the contamination in the Salina Airport Industrial Area. Residents in the area of the plume were advised not to drink the water, per the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Soilwater intrusion assays in 1999 by EPA and again in 2005 showed vapor levels inside Kansas State University’s Tullis building did not exceed state standards for air quality, but they may exceed federal EPA guidelines. As of 2005, the federal government had spent more than $17 million studying the problem in its jurisdiction. In December 2007 the Corps groundwater contamination cleanup was put on hold. In August 2008, the city of Salina offered to clean-up former Schilling AFB, as suggested by the Corps.

In 2010, after the plume had reached residential areas near the former base, Salina officials, the Salina Airport Authority, the Salina school district and Kansas State University – Salina (now Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus), who own 96% of the property filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas City, Kansas, for the clean up costs. In spring of 2013 the Department of Justice signed a settlement that the government would pay $8.4 million merely toward developing the plan to clean up the former base. A remedial investigation, feasibility study and cleanup remedy were estimated to cost about $9.3 million, of which the Salina public entities agreed to pay $936,300. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment oversees the cleanup process. As of September 2015 studies have continued to find groundwater contamination in soil and bedrock, and no concentrations of vapor requiring immediate action were found in an area around Salina Regional Airport.

News Reporter