The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 7, 2013

Vision for Ashtabula County’s airport focus of Profiles speaker

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Nearly 50 years ago, Ashtabula County Commissioners declared that an “adequate airport facility is a sober necessity” and thus created the Ashtabula County Airport Authority on July 29, 1965.

Wednesday morning, the president of that authority, Dwight Bowden, presented the current board’s vision for the Northeast Ohio Regional Airport as he spoke at the Profiles Breakfast.

Bowden said the airport is transportation infrastructure and therefore ought to be maintained and operated like any other infrastructure asset. He pointed out the example the late Robert S. Morrison, who worked tirelessly to establish an airport in the county and whose family foundation continues to support the Denmark Township airfield.

The county airport, which was renamed last year as part of a marketing plan, has an asset value of at least $15 million and generates a total economic impact of $2.78 million annually, Bowden said. Sustainability is an ongoing issue, however; the airport authority required $95,000 from commissioners in 2012 and could have used an additional $25,000 to break even at the end of 2012. The airport delayed payment on some bond debt, instead. But Bowden said the authority will look to the county for $140,000 this year.

Revenues in 2012 were nearly $500,000, and more than half of that came from donations of cash and services.

“We’ve not paid for any legal, marketing expenses,” Bowden said.

Bowden said the authority wants to make the airport sustainable, which involves fixing it, funding it and running it.

Of the former, Bowden said an environmental assessment of the 600-acre airport is being done as precursor to a complete rehabilitation of the runway. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the main source of funding, providing 95 percent of the cost of the study. The authority will need to provide a 10 percent match to the rehabilitation part of the project.

To that end, the authority established the Aviation Capital Expenditure Trust, which is managed by the Cleveland Foundation. With a balance of about $226,000, it is a third of the way toward meeting the FAA’s match requirement.

A second fund managed by the foundation seeks to make the airport sustainable by supplementing operational expenses. It has a balance of about $500,000 and, in 2013, will make nearly $31,000 available for operational expenses.

A third fund is being set up to help reduce the principal on a $1.4 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan that the board took on to build new hangars. Bowden said the authority paid $50,000 in interest and $40,000 toward principal last year. The USDA won’t modify the loan; the authority feels that reducing the principal is the best tactic to take toward lowering the cost of debt service.

Bowden said the airport authority is on good terms with the FAA , which last year reaffirmed its commitment to the airport by allowing it to retain a classification that assures corporate jet pilots of its suitability for landing their aircraft there. The presence of Spire Institute in the county greatly strengthened the authority’s case for retaining the jet-suitable status. The classification will allow expansion of the runway to 6,000 feet when the rehabilitation is done.

The authority is marketing the asset to corporations, especially those involved in oil and gas exploration. Bowden said the authority is a member of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and is preparing an ad for that group’s trade publication. The airport has a website, a Facebook page and has hired a marketing firm that specializes in airports to tell the nation’s pilots about this asset.

Bowden said the authority appreciates the support that the county commissioners and other elected officials have given the airport. Commissioner Peggy Carlo said the board members “really are very supportive and appreciative” of the authority’s work in keeping the airport open and operating according all regulations.