MORGAN -- Loose gravel can nick and ding plane propellers, certified aircraft mechanic Ron Atwood said Saturday, and it's never good when a rock gets up into those two whirling butcher knives.
Pilots, planners and pavers dedicated Morgan County Airport's new east ramp Saturday. Small aircraft had taxied up and down the gleaming black asphalt striped with fresh-painted golden-yellow lines since early October, but the aviation community found better safety and less maintenance to be worth a formal celebration.
The Utah State Division of Aeronautics paid for 90 percent of the $370,000 improvement costs for the east ramp, which meant the county only needed to produce the remaining 10 percent, said Jim Nickerson, Morgan County Airport Advisory Board co-chairman.
Before the ramp was engineered, pilots or helpers had to slowly push the planes out of the hangars and up to the runway so the spinning propellers would not stir up the rocks that would ding the metal. The gravel also dented the aircraft's horizontal stabilizer, landing gear, struts, and underbelly, said Matthew Haag, Morgan County Airport Advisory Board member and professional pilot.
"The biggest damage that occurs with loose gravel is propellers," he said. "Most of the other stuff is cosmetic."
The new ramp also paves the way to a Morgan County future with more aviation-related businesses.
Keeping an aircraft flight-worthy means more hours of service on the ground than hours flying in the air, so this will add to the existing pluses of the revenue-producing public utility. The airport is already profitable to the county.
Haag's figures show the leases brought the county $62,476 in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available. The net profit for the county was $44,417.
The next step is a self-serve fuel island, Haag said, which will bring some sales tax revenue from aviation fuel in addition to a 3 cents per gallon flow fee to go directly to the county coffers.
"We're looking for an entity ready and willing to make a long-term investment," he said.
Besides less damage and fewer safety concerns from the new ramp, airport manager Joe Garfield said Morgan might see more air traffic. Morgan County itself is likely to see more revenue.
Salt Lake City International Airport and Ogden-Hinckley Airport are getting busier, so Morgan's smaller air field is more appealing to pilots with smaller aircraft.
For example, pilots taking off from or landing at a big airport need clearance from several air traffic controllers, Haag said. Pilots at the Morgan airport need to look out the plane's window to keep from running into other aircraft.
This airport is one of several small airports dotting the Wasatch Front. There are similar -- but not identical -- airports in Logan, Brigham City, Bountiful, Provo and Lehi. Beyond that, good-sized airports are in Vernal; Heber; and Lewiston and Evanston, Wyo.
Each airport has its own following and its own distinct identity.
Stan McGrew, a committee member who flew B25s at the end of World War II, discovered the airport when he and his wife were driving around the county one day. The airport was not on any map then, he said.
"It's a jewel," McGrew said about the airport. "A hidden jewel. I first saw this in late 1978 when it wasn't what you could call an airport."