The Blair Municipal Airport (BTA) could soon be home to the Omaha Police Department's Air Support Unit, including its helicopter Able-1.
The Blair Airport Authority approved a memorandum of understanding Tuesday with the City of Omaha and OPD to lease and make improvements to an airport hangar allowing the helicopter to operate out of BTA.
“They are excited,” Chairman Geary Combs said. “They were very impressed with the airport and they're excited to be in a first-class operation.”
OPD was in the process of renegotiating its lease with the North Omaha Airport, where it currently operates, when the opportunity to use the BTA became an option, OPD Public Information Officer Gregory O'Neill wrote in an email to the Enterprise.
“Further research found the Blair airport to be a viable long-term sustainable airport for our needs,” he said.
Blair City Administrator Rod Storm, airport manager, said the City of Omaha is in the process of drafting a 5-year lease, with an option for an additional five years. OPD will lease the hangar at a proposed $3,000 a month.
O'Neill confirmed lease extensions are planned.
The department will also pay for all improvements to the hangar, which could be in the $100,000 range.
“We will do the bidding, we will do the construction and contract management,” Storm said. “Although, we have asked the City of Omaha facilities personnel to assist with that contract management and inspection because they are going to pay for it so we wanted their involvement in that also.”
O'Neill said the department expects to move to the BTA by April or May.
The BTA offers easier access than the North Omaha Airport, which is located north of state Highway 36 and west of Glen Cunningham Lake in Douglas County.
“They like the accessibility with (state Highway) 133 specifically right now,” Storm said. “It's easy access for their employees from any place in Omaha.”
OPD's operations at the BTA would also be beneficial to the airport. Officers typically man the helicopter for 18- to 20-hour days.
“You can't put a dollar figure on what the presence during the night hours of them being out there will do for security,” board member David Johnson said.
Board member Dan Hunt commended the other members for making this agreement a reality.
“It really is a good place for them,” he said. “You all who have been here for many years should be proud of what you put together out there because this is great for them for sure.”
“We're really excited about it,” Storm said. “That we could help them out because they help us out a lot. I think it will be good for everyone.”
OPD launched its helicopter program in 1997. The unit is used in a support role to serve OPD and surrounding agencies.