Study to impact airport funding

A statewide survey could impact how funding is dispersed to airports throughout Ohio.

The Ohio Airports Focus Study, being conducted by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), is expected to help ODOT and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) make “informed decisions” for Ohio’s 97 publicly-owned general aviation airports.

The study, which began in the fall, is being used to optimize investment in Ohio’s airport system with an eye toward safety, efficiency and economic growth, according to ODOT.

The study is expected to identify needed system improvements, develop a framework for prioritizing those projects and assess the economic impact of each publicly owned airport. Findings from the study will assist in making “hard decisions on proposed airport development in a period of limited funding,” according to ODOT.

A timeline for the study extends through the spring of 2014. Information is to be gathered through this fall, be analyzed and then findings and recommendations developed. A series of public meetings at several locations around the state also are to be held during this time.

“It’s something all general aviation airports are watching,” Auglaize County Neil Armstrong Airport Manager Sean Stroh said. “We really have no idea at this point how it could impact us.”

Stroh, who recently attended a public meeting about the topic in Findlay, said the last time a study of this nature was done was in 2002-03.

“I believe they are trying to gauge the economic impact with funding for airports,” Stroh said, sharing that it is always hard to come up with qualifying numbers to document that. “One of the best things about airplane travel is the anonymity to come and go about your business.”

While Stroh said it is a huge business in Auglaize County, it is hard to document beyond fuel and airplane sales. In a year’s time, he estimates that on average a couple hundred businesses utilize the airport.

“That can be anything from large corporate aircraft to a single consultant flying in to visit clients,” Stroh said.

On an annual basis, the Neil Armstrong Airport has 20 completed operations (take off and landing) a day. Approximately 33 aircraft call the county airport home.

Stroh is hopeful that on-site visits, which are to be conducted, may paint a better picture of what kind of impact that study may have locally.

“We will get them in touch with constituents using the airport, businesses using the facility for goods and services, and economic development directors,” Stroh said, explaining that the airport could be a factor in new businesses deciding to locate in Auglaize County. “The good thing about this is this is one of the first times they have reached out like this across the state really trying to get input.”

Stroh, who has been manager of the airport since 2007, said he plans to join the board of the Ohio Aviation Association to help promote and support general aviation airports throughout the state.

He said he is hopeful the position will allow him to stay as involved in the study and other issues affecting airports as possible.

“I think it is a good thing to get those ties built as the (airport) community seems to get smaller and smaller all the time,” Stroh said.