The private Hill-Rom  Holdings and Hillenbrand Inc. airport  in rural Batesville closed Monday, Sept. 10, reported John Dickey, Hill-Rom senior vice president of corporate support services.

Hill-Rom owns the airport and both companies share ownership of its three jets.

“Chief executive officers John Greisch (at Hill-Rom) and Ken Camp (at Hillenbrand Inc.) and boards at both companies were all involved in the decision,” he explained.

After the decision was made that morning, the 18 Hill-Rom  employees were notified later in the day.

Director of operations Ken Nobbe led seven pilots, five certified aircraft maintenance technicians, three other administrators and two line technicians who ferried aircraft from hangars to the one runway a little over a mile long and helped with baggage.

According to Dickey, “All employees will receive severance and health care benefits and outplacement services to create a bridge from where they are to a new role either within or outside of our company.”

He added Tuesday morning, “We will make them eligible for vacant positions. In fact, last night there were two jobs I’m trying to work out already.”

Economics was the reason for the closure. The vice president said, “Given the current regulatory environment that prevents Hill-Rom from using a private aviation program to support customer visits, it was determined that maintaining the program for executives and employees was not a cost effective alternative to commercial travel.”

“Hill-Rom  has decided we will not be using charter services or any special private aircraft services ... only commercial aviation” for future travel needs.

The three   jets at the facility now – one transoceanic Dassault Falcon and two domestic Cessna Citation III’s – will be sold.

“We will actively market the property” once that happens.

Dickey noted, “It cannot be a commercial aviation operation because the runway and configuration of the buildings would not meet Federal Aviation Administration regulations as they are today.”

As rules changed, the airport was grandfathered in, but would have to be upgraded  once it’s sold to continue as a commercial facility.

“Our desire would be to sell it to a private owner or a group of collective aviators.”

When asked about the status of another shared asset, Jawacdah Farm, also in rural Batesville, the vice president said it is “a vital business retreat facility for our customers and will continue to be so.”

Airport's history

The 113-acre facility at 25222 Enochsburg Road, Batesville,  opened in 1961. The late Daniel Hillenbrand, a World War II aviator who flew “difficult and trying” missions in Burma, “made that a reality. He and Gus Hillenbrand with the help of George Brinkmoeller made the aviation program what it was,” according to Dickey.

At its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were six jets and 30 employees at the airport. He recalled the Dassault Falcon would remain in western Europe for a month or two at a time, transporting  customers to Hill-Rom’s manufacturing and showroom sites there.  Jets also ferried Batesville Casket Co.   customers from remote sites throughout the United States to Batesville for tours.

“It was fast and  convenient for the customer.” Since September 2010, Hill-Rom customers have flown commercially while Hillenbrand Inc. continued to use its private jets for customer visits.

“All of the employees who have ever been associated with the aviation function were exemplary,” Dickey emphasized. “The one thing that is so important ... since inception, the employees of the aviation function have been 100 percent safe. There’s never been an  accident.”

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