Flight Blog

Jun 27 2017 Hank Billings — An Appreciation BY sgf-adminTAGS History


2006: Mr. Billings at SGF


Springfield newsman Hank Billings died last Friday evening. He was 91 years old.

He chronicled Springfield history for 74 years. Though officially retired in 2001, his last column ran in the Springfield News-Leader early last week.

Why mention his passing here? Because Mr. Billings chronicled most of this airport's history — he told its story, warts and all, in the spare prose of a mid-century American newspaper man. With charm and wit.

Anyone who starts working at this airport should visit the scrapbook collection. Dusty old black pages with yellowed newspaper clippings. Through them, Mr. Billings tells our story.


August 28, 1949

Your Airport’s Becoming a Busy, Bustling Place

Mr. and Mrs. Springfield, how much do you know about your four-year-old, $2,000,000 municipal airport?

Springfieldians are fond of driving to the airport for a meal or to watch the airliners land. A couple of Sundays ago, despite the fair competition, cars were parked four-deep during the time airliners arrived.

And Weatherman Williford figured that 1200 school children toured the weather bureau — and the airport — during two months last spring.

A Busy Place ...
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November 15, 1953.

Airport’s 8th Year Proves Busiest, Most Profitable

… our municipal airport — let’s face it — is a pocket-sized ‘port compared with mammoth fields like Chicago’s Midway or Boston’s Logan or New York’s Idlewild.

Yet if our airport must be termed small, it also can be called efficient and distinctive.

It’s distinctive because it is in the black, without the backbone of direct tax support.

It’s in the black because it is efficient.

In this year of the Golden Anniversary of Flight, Springfield’s airport celebrated it eighth birthday with its busiest and most profitable year so far.

Airport's 8th Year ...
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March 21, 1955

DEATH TOLL AT 12 IN PLANE CRASH – Big Airliner Down Just Short of Port

Death toll in Springfield’s worst air tragedy, and first airline accident, early today rose to 12 and some of the 23 survivors remain in critical condition after last night’s crash landing of an American Airlines Convair.

The only crew survivor, Capt. John J. (Jack) Pripish, the pilot, is reported in a “very serious” condition this morning at Burge Hospital.

Civil Aeronautics Administration and Civil Aeronautics Board investigators, unable to question the critically injured pilot, today began checking the broken remains of the twin-engine Convair “340” in a muddy pasture about two miles north of municipal airport.

Big Airliner Down
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Reported during the 1960 presidential campaign —

Windblown Welcome

As it had for Vice President Nixon several weeks ago, the sun came out Monday afternoon for municipal airport arrival of Lady Bird Johnson, gracious wife of vice presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson.

But a raw west wind of more than 30 miles an hour made it seem colder than the sunny 50 degrees.

“It is not a good day for banners,” decided an FAA controller from the warmth of the glassy airport control tower, as he watched enthusiastic greeters struggle with welcome posters and banners.

Windblown Welcome
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Mr. Billings loved aviation. He was a pilot. For awhile he wrote a column, “Hangar Flying.”

In the December 13, 1970 column he reported news of:

  • A new federal funding source for airports.
  • The Ozarks Chapter of the Air Force Association will meet at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday in the conference room of the Harry Cooper Supply Company …
  • The municipal airport manager’s council lunched at School of the Ozarks.
  • The state patrol has a new helicopter.
  • A new repair shop at the Bolivar airport.
  • Runway issues at Rolla National Airport, Vichy.
  • Airport improvements at the airport in Miami, OK.
  • A Joplin Globe editorial about the Joplin Airport.

He covered a beat like nobody’s business.

Mr. Billings' wit is on full display in a circa 1970 column —

Anyone who has had his baggage transplanted by an airline would enjoy a unique film here Friday.

The “candid camera” type black and white film was made by the Massachusetts State Police to emphasize its warning to airlines of lax security at Boston’s Logan Airport.

The film had exposure here to the airport board, City Hall staffers, and airlines and car rental personnel.

Compare that to what a newsroom scribe wrote —

… there will be a candid film on airport security, made at Boston’s Logan Airport … the film will be narrated by a member of the Massachusetts State Police … The movie, which emphasizes the lack of security at large airports, will be repeated at City Hall council chambers …




A favorite clipping is from 1946. That’s when American Airlines began service at the airport. Just one problem — there’s no byline. It reads like Mr. Billings. But is it? He would have been at the paper less than two years. Would a cub reporter have used such detail, such word choice, such depth of understanding — such enthusiasm?

Did he write it, or not?

Take a leap of faith ...


February 1, 1946.

‘Springfield’ Flies Blithely Into Town

The Flagship Springfield came out of the sun and the wind and the bright blue sky this noontime, settled gently on the runway of the new municipal airport, taxied at the direction of a slender, blue-clad girl – and gave this city a first exciting view of travel and commerce by air.

"Look at the sun shine on the silver," cried a tow-headed school girl leaning against the ropes which barred the crowd from the concrete landing space.

"Look at the wind," murmured a middle-aged fellow with his overcoat collar turned up high - and maybe it WAS the wind you could see breaking under the propellers and swishing back over the wings.

The crowd had been waiting a long time - a good two hours and some longer - for this moment. They stood in a packed administration building to hear speeches.


And then they stood out-of-doors in the cold wind, waiting - because the Flagship Springfield was delayed at Tulsa by cargo-loading, and at Joplin by wind conditions which made landing difficult (something which won't be experienced on Springfield's runways, permitting landing from every direction, in any kind of wind.)

But it was worth the waiting. At 12:23, the big silver ship was visible to the south. A hospital ship was expected also - perhaps this was it? No, the crowd murmured - hospital ships were always dark, and you could see this one in the sun.

The plane circled half-way ‘round the field, to come in from the north. As it landed at 12:26, you could see its big black letters - "American Airlines" - and the gay orange-painted trim against the silver.   

Duska Peterson, American agent, directed the big plane to its first Springfield stop. Through the windows, you could see the passengers just as you see them in a passing train - and they looked out curiously as if they didn't know this was a great day in a great city . . .

… After about 20 minutes on the ground, the big plane took off again — for St. Louis and Chicago.

And the crowd turned back to its parked automobiles — prosaic means of transportation! — agreeing that it was a most exciting day for Springfield.

Flagship Springfield
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21st Century — May 17, 2006

60 years after the flight of 'Flagship Springfield' the airport prepared to break ceremonial ground for its third airline terminal.

Who should speak at the event, besides the obvious dignitaries?

Well, Mr. Billings, of course. We asked and he accepted. What he didn’t know was that we had a plaque for him. The inscription read:

Presented to Mr. Hank Billings during the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Midfield Terminal at Springfield-Branson National Airport. Thank you for your interest in the aviation community and for more than half-a-century of journalistic excellence. 

Mr. Billings receives the plaque from
Raeanne Presley, chair of the airport board.
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You may have noticed some local TV news reports about Uber service at the airport. Uber is the on-demand private ride service; it recently started doing business in Springfield.

There are several angles to this story you haven’t heard. This post will be long-winded so please bear with us. Let’s start with what’s being reported in local media: complaints from Uber drivers about the airport.

Uber drivers don’t like the temporary airport parking rules in place that their employer, corporate Uber, agreed to. Rather than taking their concerns to their employer, drivers are by-passing Uber and complaining directly to the media, and indirectly to the airport.

From the airport's point-of-view, this is a peculiar situation ...

We're currently negotiating an operating agreement with corporate Uber which is located in San Francisco. When it’s done the agreement will spell out many things, including where Uber employees can operate on the airport, and how much Uber will pay the airport for doing business at the airport. As these corporate negotiations continue, the company's employees are trying to set the terms of the contract on their own.

The main concern Uber employees have concerns staging (staging is industry jargon for a parking area where drivers wait for fares). The airport has temporary rules in place that forbids Uber from staging on airport property (we expect this issue will be worked out in the operating agreement that is being negotiated).

Staging sounds simple enough, but at an airport it’s anything but. Bottom line: we currently don’t have any place to stage them.

Drivers have suggestions:

  • “Put us in the cell phone lot.” The cell phone lot is for airport customers. It’s too small for both.

  • “Build us a parking lot.” Who’s going to pay for it? The airport is not obligated to build facilities free of charge for businesses that want to do business at the airport.

  • “Put us in the bus/shuttle parking lot.” That lot is designed for busses and shuttles.

The bus/shuttle parking lot is off the table for another reason as well: that lot is right next to the lot where taxi cabs stage. Uber has asked us specifically not to stage its drivers next to cab drivers. Why? Because when cabs and Ubers are staged close to one another it’s not uncommon for brawls to break out. If this sounds far-fetched, do a Google news search on the subject.

Uber drivers have responded to the rules by staging on the side of roadways that are off airport property. This has prompted some to say that parking on the side of the road is unsafe. In response, drivers blame the airport.

Well, the airport is working with their employer to figure out a solution. We’re confident something will be worked out.

Okay, enough of the back story, let’s move on to another, but related subject: how things work at the airport.

Some think the airport has an obligation to build facilities for a business that wants to do business here. Here’s how it really works and why …

While the airport is owned by the city of Springfield, it does not receive tax revenue from the city. The airport is set up as an “enterprise fund,” meaning that it must pay its own way.

The airport gets funding from two basic sources:

  • The federal government. The feds send us money through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FAA money comes mainly from fees on airline tickets, aviation fuel and cargo shipments.

  • The rest of our funding comes from revenue that the airport generates. This includes income from fees and rents charged to airlines, restaurants, rental car companies, gift shops, etc. To put it simply: any business that does business at the airport must pay for the privilege of doing so.

It’s not us making that bold faced statement. It’s the federal government. Any airport that receives federal funds must play by this rule. Why? The feds want airports to as self-sufficient as possible (click here for a deep dive into the subject).

So bring the last paragraph around to the current situation. If Uber wants a staging lot it will work with the airport to figure out a funding source to pay for it. The Uber corporation understands that airports can’t provide free services for the company. Yet, its employees, on their own, are demanding accommodation that the airport is not obliged to provide. If we do provide it, it will be part of a formal operating agreement between corporate Uber and the airport.



We’re now shooting for a mid-December opening for the new parking areas in the long term parking lot. We’d hoped to have them open this month, but have been delayed by the late arrival of the new light towers. The manufacturer of the towers says we should have delivery in a couple of weeks. After that, they’ll have to be wired and mounted on their bases.

The need for additional parking is the result of the airport’s rapid passenger growth over the past couple of years (up about 11% since 2014).

Growth is good, but it’s been a headache for customers in the parking lots — several times this year we’ve run out of parking places. The short-term remedy has been to allow parking in the aisles and just about any nook and cranny that a car can fit in. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Earlier this week Uber, the on-demand private car service, received permission to operate in Springfield. The airport and Uber will negotiate an operating agreement in the next few months, but in the short term Uber drivers will be allowed to pick-up customers in front of the airline terminal, at the west end of the front curb. Signs designating the pick-up area should be up by the end of today (Wednesday).

We expect Uber to be available here by the end of the week, perhaps as early as today or tomorrow.