Archived Story

Airport critical to county’s economic health

Published 12:00am Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Lawrence County Airpark has a rich history. John Paul Riddle established it in 1929. Riddle subsequently founded Embry-Riddle Company, one of the largest aviation schools in the world.

The airpark is located just west of Chesapeake on County Road 1, next to the river on 86 acres of property. Riddle, the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, the Huntington Bridge Company and the local pilots’ association contributed money to establish the Lawrence County Airpark.

American Airlines used the facility in the 1930s for passenger operations, utilizing the venerable Douglas DC-3 aircraft. Airmail was sent and received on a daily schedule. Riddle opened a teaching facility for pilots.

Today, LCA averages 42,000 operations per year, about 114 per day. Itinerate operations range between 3,000 and 3,400 per year, roughly 7 percent of total operations. These are people coming to Lawrence County to do business.

Thousands of people have taken their first flight in an aircraft. Many have experienced the thrill of freefall and a parachute. Other operations include training flights and banner tows.

Tri-State Airport in Huntington, W.Va., averages 44 operations per day. LCA is located just outside Tri-State’s control zone. They handle most of the operations at LCA and rely heavily on this traffic count to maintain their terminal radar facility. Huntington radar is essential to airline traffic and the loss of it could doom the commercial traffic into Huntington.

LCA has trained numerous private and commercial pilots. Many of these pilots have served in our military. Others, including myself, have continued on to fly corporate aircraft and for our airlines.

The airpark is one of the few post secondary teaching facilities Lawrence County has to offer. There are currently about 30 students served by eight instructors. Another 70 pilots receive recurrent training each year from this same facility. LCA is the largest training facility for pilots in our Tri-State.

Attitude Aviation is a business located at the airport. It has seven full-time and 3 part-time employees. They are engaged in flight training, aircraft charter, repair service and plane rental.

Various other enterprises have operated from the airport including, parachuting, plane rides, aerial photography, instruction, repair and banner tows. Thirty nine entities rent space from the county, of these 22 of them are Lawrence County residents.

The Federal Aviation Administration makes $150,000 available to the county each year as a 90 percent to 10 percent match. These funds have been used to improve the runway, taxiway, markings, etc.

Every airport has an airport safety zone. Its physical description begins with an elliptical shape on the ground that surrounds the runway. The sides slope upward and away from the edges of the ellipse to form a “bowl” shape that overlays the airport.

The schools, bridges and other structures that underlie this zone all comply with the restrictions set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration. They pose no threat to aviation and aviation poses no threat to these structures.

There are trees protruding into the airport safety zone at each end of the runway. The FAA has deemed these trees to be a hazard to aviation. Numerous attempts have been made over the last twenty years to cut those trees. Payment has been offered to the property owner for the loss of their trees.

The county has attempted to buy a right-of-way to cut the trees and allow the owner to retain ownership of the property. The property owners will not allow the trees to be cut under any circumstances. The attorneys for the county and the property owner have been unable to reach a price that is agreeable to both entities. This forces the county into an eminent domain lawsuit to purchase this property.

The FAA will reimburse the county for all of the expenses incurred acquiring the property and the property itself, if the proper steps were taken in the case. The county stands to gain 46 acres of property at no cost to the county itself.

The property where the airport is situated has an encumbrance on the deed called a reversion clause. The gist of the clause is that if the property ever ceases to be an airport, the property reverts back to its original owners or their heirs.

All of the county investment to date would be lost, if the airport were allowed to be closed. The property is virtually useless to the county for any other purpose with this clause intact.

LCA is financially capable of sustaining itself without county funds. I can think of no other county asset that can make that claim. There are enough monies to pay the utilities, insurance and 10 percent matching funds each year.

Almost $50,000 has been charged to this line item to sustain the eminent domain suit in the last two years causing a cash flow shortage. All of this money will be returned to the county when the lawsuit is concluded.

Every county in Ohio has an airport. Gov. James Rhoades saw this as the very best economic strategy for Ohio and provided funding to make this happen. Lawrence County businesses depend on this facility to conduct business.

We want to be a business friendly community, not give businesses a reason to locate elsewhere. No sustained economic development has ever taken place without an airport.

I would support building a new airport at another location only if it were built and in operation before LCA were closed. An airport of the caliber being suggested would need a minimum of 300 acres.

We would return 86 acres at the current location into taxable property and in turn remove 300 acres from the taxable property list. Acquisition of this acreage would necessitate numerous eminent domain suits.

No business would ever consider selling an asset to make payroll.

These are the questions that we need to answer. Does it make sense to do away with an education facility for our youth? Do we really want to cut jobs and hamper our businesses by taking away a vital piece of infrastructure they need? Do we not want the revenue these transient aircraft bring to our community? Do we want to say no to another $750,000 in FAA grants? Do we want to be the only county in Ohio without an airport?

Urge our commissioners to support the growth of our airport. There are numerous properties in the Charlie Creek area to develop with out destroying an asset that supplies jobs, education, infrastructure, business and tourism to our county.

William Nenni

Ironton

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  • mikehaney

    We absolutely need to have and maintain this airport. With the Chesapeake bypass, Portsmouth bypass and Point industrial park, our future in Lawrence county is looking to grow. I just wish some one would build a fire under our Columbus legislatures and also “local” leaders to get all of these projects moving just a little bit faster.
    Patience is an asset but; sheesh!

    (Report comment)

  • Poor Richard

    I would like to thank Mr. Nenni for providing this history and background of the airport. It is difficult for citizens to provide input to elected officials who seem to know little to nothing about the decisions they are making regarding the airport or other issues.

    So, to clarify, ‘itinerant operations’ means an operation is arriving from outside the traffic pattern or departs the airport traffic pattern. Local means an operation that stays within the traffic pattern airspace (non-itinerant). I think what you are saying is 3000-4000 flights per year arrive from outside the area and the other 38,000 are the recreational planes flying around the area? Is there anything that our airport could do through marketing or other means to encourage people from outside the area to use our airport as a stopover?

    I did not know about the Tri-State airports terminal radar system. Since they rely on our county airport, do they contribute to the funding of our airport?

    I find it curious that you refer to the facility as an ‘airpark’ rather than an ‘airport’ which denotes to me, a recreational facility. I looked up a number of other counties but they are all called ‘airports’. Jackson county Ohio with a population of half of Lawrence County not only has an public airport but also a private airport and numerous heliports. I don’t know the exact wording of the lease, but if the airport was turned into a private airport it would technically still be an airport. Is this possible and what would be the pros and cons?

    I am curious too if Gov. James Rhoades based his airport economic strategy idea on any concrete studies or if he just pulled it out of his hat? Has there been anything published on the actual validity of that economic growth statement to date as to whether these county airports are contributing or draining funds? Or are we all just going along believing it as gospel? I mean, not to sound negative, but 3000-4000 flights per year is not that many.

    I do like the idea of the air school and wonder if that could be expanded? Maybe a partnership with a university or large corporation? Could local schools bring their students to the airport for tours or a learning experience? Can the airport provide aviation seminars or conferences? Are there specific trainings that airport personnel must be certified in, such as HAZWOPER, that the airport could conduct the trainings for area personnel?

    It seems the airport has substantial potential in some areas (although I don’t know if it helps increase their profits or need) while there are deficiencies in other areas of the airport use. Mr. Nenni, it seems that you and the pilots association are very capable of much more than the airport is currently producing. Maybe this will change once the airport is expanded. In any case, as a citizen of Lawrence County, I am not willing to continue the status quo. I am but one voice but I will fight for what I believe — indefinitely.

    (Report comment)

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