Ever since he was a child, Springfield resident Elton Cultice has had a fascination with aviation, whether it be imagining he could fly or his love for airplanes. On July 1, his lifelong passion for flight will come full circle when he officially begins his tenure as the new airport manager at Grimes Field in Urbana.
“I’ve been a pilot for 25 years, but I have always loved aviation for as long as I can remember,” Cultice said. “Growing up, I was the kind of kid who dreamt I could fly, and I’m the kind of person that if an airplane flies overhead, I have to stop and watch it to see what it is and where it’s going.
“Aviation is my true passion, so when this opportunity to be airport manager here in Urbana presented itself, I jumped all over it,” he added.
After graduating from Urbana High School in 1974, Cultice moved to Springfield where he worked for Fulmer Supermarkets for 18 years before spending two decades at Honda. While he’s never worked in an aviation-related field, he’s always found time to live his boyhood dream of flying.
Along with being a licensed pilot for over two decades, Cultice is an active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and former president of the the EAA chapter at the Mad River Airport near Tremont City.
“In the past I’ve owned my own airplane, and I’m hoping to build a home-built experimental one of these days,” he added.
Taking over the reins at Grimes Field
Since June 20, Cultice has been working side-by-side with current Airport Manager Lou Driever in order to learn the ropes prior to taking over the head position at the city-owned airport.
“Lou’s done a good job of getting things going, and I’m going to try to continue that,” Cultice said. “This is a dream job for a pilot to get to work in aviation. I get to deal with the two things I like most, which is airplanes and people.”
Driever, who took over for former Airport Manager Carol Hall back on Feb. 1, 2015, submitted his letter of resignation to the city in early May due to his pending move to Kentucky to be with his new wife.
“I’ve striven to be a good steward and build on the accomplishments of my predecessors,” Driever said. “I’m confident Elton will carry on in this tradition.”
Cultice’s first major project as airport manager will be seeing through to completion a project Driever has helped guide along – the construction of a new T-hangar and a new corporate hangar at Grimes Field.
Driever said he expects the project to break ground within the next 45 to 60 days with both hangars being built with private dollars.
There are currently 52 airplanes based at Grimes Field, and according to Driever, the new T-hangar will hold 10 airplanes, while the corporate hangar will house two.
“These two hangars will give us a 20 percent increase in the total number of airplanes based here,” he said.
While shadowing Driever for the past two weeks, Cultice said, he has taken a close look at the facilities and plans to bring forth to city officials a plan to address a few outstanding maintenance issues at some point yet this year.
According to Cultice, the terminal “needs a facelift,” so the hope is to paint its exterior. He also noted the parking lot needs resealed.
“Both projects are following up on the last time they were done in the 1990s,” Driever added. “They are overdue.”
City tweaks position
Prior to hiring Cultice as Driever’s replacement, Director of Administration Kerry Brugger said city administration met to discuss the airport manager position and decided to bring Cultice aboard as a city employee instead of an independent contractor like his predecessors.
Brugger said not only has the IRS been putting more emphasis on what constitutes a contractor versus an employee, but so too have industries and entities across the country.
During internal talks among city leaders, Brugger said, the decision to make Cultice a city employee was based primarily on the fact the position reports directly to city administration instead of the airport manager making his or her own decisions with limited guidance. Also, Brugger noted, many independent contract positions are temporary, and the city has no plans of eliminating the airport manager position anytime in the near future.
“It was just time to address the matter,” he said. “We (city administration) give a lot of regular guidance, so it’s not like (this position) is truly independent. Plus, if it’s an ongoing position, is it really contract (work)?”
As for the terms of the position, Brugger said, Cultice will be paid $34,320 a year and “he will have some flexibility in his hours.”
“Elton really seems to be enthusiastic and anxious to help us out at the airport,” Brugger said, adding Cultice’s pilot experience combined with his budgeting and manpower management experience at Honda enable him to bring both the aviation and business sides to the airport manager position. “I think (Elton) will be a good fit for us to move things forward.”
Initially, the hope is Cultice’s prior experiences will allow the city to update its standard operating procedures at the airport while also streamlining the day-to-day activities between the airport and the city’s finance department, Brugger said.
Cultice said he is looking forward to the chance to help improve and grow Grimes Field.
“There is so much history here,” he said. “I just want to make it a little bit better.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.