ENID, Okla. — Keston Cook studied a lot of different aspects of airport management during his time at Oklahoma State University, but few young airport managers could anticipate taking the helm of a busy regional airport, with an active role in supporting military flight operations, at the height of a global pandemic.
Cook stepped into that role last September, taking over as interim director at Enid Woodring Regional Airport after the departure of previous director Deirdre Gurry. The move to interim director came after three years as airport operations manager.
Originally from Piedmont, Cook graduated from high school there in 2013, then graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2017 with a degree in aviation management and aerospace security.
He came to Woodring after serving one year in a temporary position at Appleton International Airport, in Appleton, Wis.
While Woodring may be overlooked by many visitors to Enid, the airport, with runways of 8,650 and 3,150 feet, is part of a statewide network of airports that Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission (OAC) estimated in 2017 has an economic impact of $10.6 billion — in addition to $13.9 billion in off-airport aerospace jobs and $19.3 billion in military aviation.
OAC estimated Woodring’s share of that — at $29.2 million per year — supports 293 jobs between airport operations, contract work, flight schools and companies that make their homes at the airport.
Cook said COVID slowed down Woodring’s non-military traffic “quite a bit,” as corporate traffic came to a standstill due to pandemic travel concerns.
At airports without a diversified clientele, the effects of the pandemic on operations — and revenue — have been drastic. Most airports saw an 80% decrease in traffic during the height of the pandemic, Cook said.
But most airports aren’t next-door to one of the busiest military aviation training bases in the nation, and Cook said Woodring’s partnership to provide training space for aircraft from Vance Air Force Base has been invaluable during the pandemic.
“We have been lucky, being close enough to Vance to help them execute their mission,” Cook said. “The Vance traffic has been a great help, and our fuel sales actually increased last year because of all their traffic here.”
Instead of an 80% decrease in traffic, Woodring has been operating at 120%, over normal capacity, during the pandemic, predominantly because of training flights from Vance.
According to information provided by Vance Air Force, the base flew 17,000 sorties to Woodring in 2020 and received 416,000 gallons of aviation fuel at the airport. “Woodring has provided our students with irreplaceable training while reducing the workload of our maintainers and controllers,” according to the statement from Vance.
“Vance has been a tremendous help during COVID,” Cook said, “and they’ve definitely made all our jobs a lot more secure.”
Still open to the public
Many of the public events at Woodring, such as monthly airport-sponsored fly-ins, have been on hold due to COVID-19. Fly-in events, which bring in a wide variety of privately owned aircraft from across the region, were suspended last year due to the pandemic. Cook said he’s hoping to resume an airport fly-in this April.
Large public events, like air shows, are on hold for now due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
“We’ve refrained from planning anything major, due to COVID,” Cook said, “and trying to figure out what the situation will be like this spring and summer.”
But, business, and its economic impact, continues at Woodring. Aircraft Structures International (ASIC), which repairs Cessna Caravan aircraft, and Wrenn Aviation, an aviation mechanic and inspection shop at the airport, are the largest private employers there, followed by flight schools Aviators Wing and Aero Club of Enid.
Public attractions still are open, such as the Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park, M.L. Becker Learning Center and periodic static displays and departures for fly-ins of “Lady Liberty,” a historic Douglas A-26 Invader.
General aviation also remains strong at Woodring, Cook said. Of the hangars owned by the city of Enid, 74 are occupied, and just seven are available for rent. All 23 of the airport’s privately owned hangars currently are occupied.
Cook said aviation fuel sales to private, general aviation aircraft “didn’t see much of a hit” during COVID, as even during the worst of the lockdown people could still escape their worries in the cockpit.
“People got stuck in their house, and a lot of events were canceled because of social distancing,” Cook said, “but they could still come out here and fly by themselves, and enjoy that time, and be away from the public.”
Visitors to Enid Woodring Regional Airport also can take in all the airport has to offer while enjoying a meal at Barnstormers Restaurant, with a scenic overlook of the ramp and runways.
Barnstormers is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The restaurant also opens every third Saturday, excluding November and December, for a fly-in breakfast, 7:30-10:30 a.m.
Up and coming
Keeping the planes flying and operations going requires periodic maintenance and upgrades, and Woodring has two large projects on the horizon.
A ramp rehabilitation project is scheduled to begin in April, with a price tag of $270,000, to be funded from the airport budget and possibly a portion from the Oklahoma Strategic Military Planning Commission, according to officials.
The project will involve sealing cracks in the concrete, and completely replacing some panels, on the main and south ramps, the joint use ramps and the main runway.
A larger project, currently in the planning phase, will involve complete reconstruction of the crosswind, 13/31, runway, according to project officials.
That runway currently is 3,150 feet long by 108 feet wide. The reconstruction project would narrow the runway to 75 feet and retain the 3,150-foot length — reducing the width by 33 feet, to reduce the project cost.
The project is expected to cost approximately $2.1 million, to be funded through the Oklahoma Aviation Commission, Federal Aviation Administration funds and the airport’s annual budget, and is slated to begin in January 2022.