The first phase of $1.4 million in improvements at Madison Airport began Tuesday afternoon with a ceremonial groundbreaking.

According to Willie Walker, airport board chair, this is the first step in improving aviation services for the community and also benefit the Eastern Kentucky University aviation program.

The first phase includes enlarging the apron into what is now the automobile parking lot and construction of a larger lot for cars and trucks.

Also, EKU will build a new hanger to shelter its aircraft.

“With this expansion we can have more corporate, local and EKU traffic,” Walker said. “I think this is a very major thing for the development of the county.”

U.S. Andy Barr, R-Sixth District, was present and shared his thoughts on what the expansion will mean.

“The airport is a critical thing for EKU with the aviation program being one of its kind in the commonwealth and, frankly, one of the leading programs in the nation, as far as aviation training goes,” Barr said. “There are multiple phases to go, but it is great to see all of the other partners here today that have made this possible.”

State legislators and the mayors of Richmond and Berea were present for the ceremony along with other community leaders who shared their excitement about seeing the airport “take off.”

The airport is jointly owned by county government and the two cities.

“Phase one today is probably one of the most important historical events in this century for Madison County’s economic development,” said Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond. “When we look at the opportunities that we have here, this airport will be the future for the young people.”

“We are here today to have shovels in our hand, dirt flying everywhere and the smell of diesel fuel over our shoulders … to me that’s a great day,” said state Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea. “I am glad to be part of this and look forward to many more days in Madison County.”

“I don’t think anyone standing here today can envision what this will mean to us in 20 years,” said Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes. “I can’t change today, but I can help make a huge difference for tomorrow, and that’s exactly what we have to keep on doing.”

Everyone spoke about how excited they were for EKU’s aviation program as well as for the broader community.

“I found that those who love aviation are like those who own a Harley-Davidson or follow UK basketball,” said EKU President Michael Benson. “They are passionate beyond what you might expect in normal people. That’s what I love about our program.”

Benson said every Kentucky university and college has varied education programs, but EKU is the only school with an aviation program.

“People recognize that this is a unique program and going forward the sky is the limit. I say go Colonels and wheels up to this program,” Benson said. “To our students, this is about you and your future. There is a pilot shortage out there. It is acute; it is serious. And when governments can partner and come together like we have, that speaks to what we are all about at EKU.”

The project is being funded by $750,000 in Federal Aviation Administration funds, with $75,000 combined funds from the three local governments and proceeds from a $1.1 million state grant approved by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Bonnie Dailey can be reached at or at 624-6694.

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