News, UCM News

Improvements flying into airport

A skid-steer loader is parked by the muddy construction site at Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport, where the $7 million runway and taxiway resurfacing project is underway. (Photo by Garrett Fuller, senior writer.)

For over 50 years, the UCM aviation program has been teaching students to fly at the Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport west on U.S. Highway 50.

To continue the tradition, the Sunderland Foundation has pledged $1 million toward construction of a new terminal/flight school building, which would also include meeting spaces and offices.

Courtney Goddard, associate vice president for advancement, said the Sunderland Foundation’s $1 million pledge will join another $1 million pledge made by an anonymous donor to construct the new facility at the airport.

Although the original plans called for $3.1 million to fund construction of the facility, Goddard said construction may commence with the current $2 million. Terry Hunt, chair of the School of Aviation, said the square footage of the new facility has not been determined.

“We’re going to bring in experts to ascertain whether a state-of-the-art terminal can be built for the private funds we have already secured,” Goddard said. “If we discover that we do need another million dollars to build the terminal we want and that our students deserve, then we will continue to secure additional private funding.”

Hunt said the ideal facility would differ from reality.

“The new airport facility would house our flight school,” Hunt said, “which is kind of the epicenter of our professional pilot degree program and the flight operations management degree program.”

Hunt said priority will go toward moving the flight school from its current location in Hangar 3 to a permanent building to adequately fit the needs of students. He said a new structure will provide private space for flight instructors to meet with students for briefing and debriefing. The new building will also create space for the chief scheduler and financial specialists to work.

“Priority one is the student,” Hunt said, “the student experience at the airport, to get them the adequate learning space they need to succeed.”

Hunt said he would like to see a classroom area constructed as well as a break area for guests.

Another priority in the project is updating the fixed base operation.

“Also, there’s the idea of the FBO — fixed base operation,” Hunt said, “the terminal, if you will, where people flying in can potentially rent a car, order fuel, schedule maintenance, schedule tie-down or rent a hangar for the short term.”

Hunt said he does not expect construction of the new facility to affect airport operation.

Photo by Garrett Fuller/Senior Writer

Conner Albrecht, senior professional pilot student, works at the table inside of Hanger 3.

Conner Albrecht, a senior professional pilot major, said he is excited for the new facility.

“I think it’s really important,” he said. “We really have outgrown the facilities we have now. I think it’s just the next step.”

Hunt said the flight school has operated out of hangar 3 since the old terminal was demolished in early 2017.

Albrecht said the upgrades at the airport will also help generate and maintain interest in flying.

“I think having some nicer facilities would just have students more excited about flying and dreading it a little less,” he said. “I think it’ll bring some much-needed excitement to the program.”

In addition to the new main facility, Hunt said space has been set aside to construct three new banks of hangars. He said there is currently a waiting list for available hangar space.

Photo by Garrett Fuller/Senior Writer

Hangar 3, right, currently houses the flight school. The small building to the left houses the fixed base operation and terminal.

According to a news release, the terminal/flight school building project is the beginning of phase two at Skyhaven. Dan Dietz, airport manager, said an ongoing $7 million project to resurface the runways and taxiways is phase one. The project was partially funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Missouri Department of Transportation. Dietz said parts of the runway and taxiways were unable to be rebuilt completely due to natural gas pipelines in the area.

The UCM is the only public university in Missouri to own and operate a general aviation airport, according to a news release.

The Sunderland Foundation was established by Lester T. Sunderland in 1945 to fund construction projects in the Kansas City region, according to a news release.

“One of our key funding areas is higher education and specifically brick-and-mortar projects for new or improved facilities,” Kent Sunderland, president of the Sunderland Foundation, said in a news release. “As a pilot myself, I understand how valuable UCM’s airport is to both the university and the larger community. We are happy to support this renowned School of Aviation’s growth and preserve its legacy through renovations that reflect our foundation’s commitment to constructing a better quality of life from the ground up.”

For more information about charitable donations at UCM, contact Goddard at

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