Candidate motorcades stopped traffic and turned heads before last week's vice-presidential debate at Centre College, but most people were oblivious to the many aircrafts slipping into town.
While the Danville-Boyle County Airport may lack the size of the hubs in Louisville and Lexington, a fleet of private jets carrying some political heavyweights opted to fly in and out of the small airport near Junction City.
Stuart Powell, chairman of the airport board, said at least 20 planes from around the country carrying media members, politicians and big party donors packed the tarmac last Thursday.
“Everything went like clockwork,” Powell said. “It went about as smoothly as it could. We had a lot of local pilots and people in the aviation community pitch in and make sure these big expensive aircrafts go where they needed to be. By the time they were all in place, it looked like a metropolitan airport.”
Powell said there were some, like longtime airport employee Bobby Payne, who were around for the 2000 debate.
Parking the corporate jets of those who wanted to get as close to the action as possible took effort.
The airport borrowed a heavy-duty airplane tower from Bluegrass Field in Lexington in order to get all of the planes parked where they needed to be. According to Powell, a recently completed ramp extension and corporate hangar space both came in handy during the busy day.
A 15-passenger van transported some of those arriving, and Powell said it also brought the pilots and other crew into town where many of them spent the afternoon and evening eating meals at local restaurants.
Volunteers organized through the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership were on hand to act as greeters and make suggestions about where to go.
Although Powell said none of the key players in the debate flew into Danville, there was heightened security just as with the actual debate site,
Secret Service members visited the field several times in the weeks leading up to the debate. Kentucky State Police, which has an office at the airport, also was involved with security before and during the debate clamor.
The aircraft began arriving mostly on the afternoon of debate day. Powell said two Federal Aviation Administration certified air traffic controllers from Lexington were on hand to help land the hoard of planes that were in their flight pattern above the field about the same time.
In addition to the excitement of being part of such a large event, Powell said the airport bolstered its reputation and its bank account. About 4,000 gallons of fuel were sold on Thursday.
The conservative talking head apparently was on the last flight out, as the entire place cleared out just before 1 a.m. Friday.
A few hours later, Powell said the airport was back to serving what has become a refreshingly regular stream of freight business from Hitachi.
He said the company has picked up its activity markedly over the last several months and brought in another large shipment hours after the fleet of political planes had left the area.