The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 15, 2012

Airport needs more cash as costs really take off

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  The Ashtabula County Airport Authority Thursday morning asked commissioners for an additional $35,000 to get it through the end of the year.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Airport already received its full 2012 appropriation, $95,000, but Authority President Dwight Bowden said expenses are outpacing revenues at the Denmark Township airport.

“We need an additional $35,000 to get through the end of the year,” he told commissioners Peggy Carlo and Joe Moroski during the special meeting.

Authority members said weak fuel sales are putting a drag on the airport’s revenue, which is expected to be only $14,400 in December. But expenses are projected at $46,232 for the month. That amount includes three months of bond payments that have not been made thus far this quarter.

Aviation has not recovered from the recession. Authority member Dave Price said the airport sold only 15,000 gallons of fuel from January to October. It sold 19,000 gallons last year during that same period.

Total fuel sales for the period were $205,295, about a third of the airport’s total revenues of $593,420. But the gross profit on those sales was only $43,000, Price said.

The authority blames the problem on a national decrease in general aviation, brought on by consumers tightening their belts on discretionary spending and expensive hobbies.

“The recreational dollar here is gone,” said Joe Rich, an Ashtabula resident who has an airplane at the airport. He said it reaches a certain point where the pastime becomes financially unmanageable and owners have to sell their aircraft.

Rich criticized the authority for not being friendly to the recreational aircraft owners by offering a discount on fuel to those who rent a hangar there. He said with the airport selling its aviation fuel for $6.11 a gallon, he buys just enough there to get him to another airport where the fuel is less expensive.

He said commissioners and the authority can’t approach the airport as if it is a retail business that has to make money or at least break even. He compared the airport to the highway department, which provides a service to motorists by keeping the infrastructure safe and sound.

“Airports traditionally don’t make money,” he said.

Carlo and Moroski did not comment on the authority’s request. Bowden said the authority has not come up with their request for 2013, but he said it is likely to be more than the $95,000 they received this year.

The authority this year received a comprehensive marketing plan for the airport and has implemented some of the suggestions. The plan was funded by a private donation.