A landing strip for Santa?

PHOTO/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
NORTH POLE -- North Pole officials are studying options for a new airport or to purchase Bradley Sky Ranch in hopes of creating an alternate airport for general aviation users at Fairbanks International Airport.

"Two years ago we couldn’t even get the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to acknowledge us. Today they are allowing us to put out an RFP (request for proposals) for a master plan," said Merle Jantz, chairman of the North Pole city transportation subcommittee.

Jantz and eight other North Pole residents are studying options for a new airport or to purchase the aircraft facilities at the ranch and the 100 acres that go along with it.

The facility’s 4,093-foot runway and 2,500-foot float pond have room for 100 tie-downs and an on-site aircraft maintenance business, but according to Jantz the airport’s current condition is questionable.

"Currently the airport is deteriorating and losing tie-down business," said Jantz, a pilot and former aircraft owner. "We hope to find an alternative or in Bradley’s legacy continue to improve the Sky Ranch."

The RFP to develop a master plan for the airport will include several options, according to Jantz. And one of the options could be for North Pole to buy the airport.

"... One of the planning options could be to purchase the existing airport, but we are not leaning one way or the other," said Matt Freeman, a statewide airport planner for the FAA.

A typical grant for an airport master plan costs from $250,000 to 350,000, with the FAA capable of providing up to 92.5 percent of the funding with the other 7.5 percent provided by the community or the State Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

"The state can provide funding for this if the city decides not to fund it, and we may want to go this way," added Jantz.

Bradley Sky Ranch has been embroiled in a family feud that had the heirs suing each other, although the intent of the airport’s namesake was to support his wife, Sophie Bradley, after the passing of Robert Bradley.

The results of the lawsuits by the Bradley children eventually forced the court system to assign a conservator to handle Bradley Sky Ranch’s business.

The court assigned Guardian Services to handle the airport assets and business, according to Jantz.

Guardian Services referred all calls and information about the airport to Tom Manniello, an attorney with Borgesson and Burns of Fairbanks. Manniello did not return the Journal’s calls.

The RFP is set to be opened in mid-February, according to Jantz. "We hope to get a start on this in the spring and have some answers to what we are going to do about an airport in the future."

Several airports in the Tanana Valley have disappeared in the past 10 years. Phillips Field yielded to the Johansen Expressway, and Metro Field in the Van Horn Road industrial area in South Fairbanks is now closed, leaving little in the way of general aviation alternatives to Fairbanks International. Jantz also indicated that the gravel strip could be paved to attract more commercial operations.

"If the master plan indicates that we buy the Sky Ranch, we could offer an alternative to Fairbanks International for general aviation aircraft who have a radio failure or other restrictions that could keep them from using the airport’s airspace," Jantz said.

North Pole, famous for the Santa Claus House and the mail stop for the winter cherub, may have an additional facility for a sleigh and reindeer.

"Perhaps we could call it Santa Claus International Airport," Jantz said.

02/03/2001 - 8:00pm