William Laney LIMA
Are General Aviation Airports Economically Feasible?
March 29, 2014
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  • Area airport managers and an economic development director espouse the importance of general aviation airports, but one national organization wants to see a thorough and objective report showing their value and worth to local economies.

    Lima Allen County Airport Manager Ryan Huizinga, Neil Armstrong Airport Manager Sean Stroh and Allen Economic Development Group Executive Director Jeff Sprague contend airports in Allen, Auglaize, Hancock, Hardin, Putnam and Van Wert counties help maintain and generate new economic opportunities.

    “There are more than 5,000 public-use airports in the United States, and each airport is an economic generator in its community,” Huizinga said. “Airports generate revenue through activities that include fuel sales, hangar and tie-down rental, aircraft maintenance and services on the airport, such as flight schools, restaurants, aircraft sales and rental. Other revenue comes to the community as visitors rent cars, check into area hotels and visit restaurants and other attractions.

    “General aviation in the U.S. is a $150 billion industry that employs more than 1 million people, and airports play an important part in generating that revenue,” he said. “In addition, each airport is part of a national transportation system that links communities and markets.”

    Sprague said this importance is stressed during meetings with businesses and filling out questionaires.

    “I know when we are dealing on attracting potential companies, where companies are looking to locate into a community, one of the questions on their inventory list of items they are looking for is do you have a regional airport and the specifics of the airport,” Sprague said. “It is an added check-mark on the plus side for our community when submitting potential site applications.”

    Stroh concurs with Sprague.

    “When you look at the demands of businesses that utilize the facility in today’s world, as we have done with the runways, the taxiways, the parking area, and our next big project is the terminal building, we need space to accommodate the actual travelers coming and going from this site,” Stroh said, with the airport and Auglaize County prepared to spend about $100,000 to get a $1 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for a new terminal building.

    “We have key players, business and industry from around the country and the world coming into our community, and this is the first place they touch ground in Auglaize County and we want to make a great first impression and we want to show them that we have made the investments in infrastructure just as we did with our runways,” he said. ” We made the investments in targeted areas that we can hopefully get them to really invest in our communities, too. We want them to know we are serious about business growth in our communities.”

    Stroh also stressed the popularity of the airport in showing their importance. The Neil Armstrong Airport recorded about 29,565 landings and takeoffs in 2013, while the Lima Allen County Airport saw about 32,485 through the 12 months preceding Sept. 25. The Putnam County Airport reported 12,045 landings and takeoffs.

    Airports typically are used for a variety of reasons including for business, recreation, law enforcement, fire control, medical services and medical taxi, cargo operations and agriculture. They receive most of their income from jet and aviation fuel sales, hangar rentals, renting ground in the area for agricultural purposes and some, none in this area, receive landing and ramp fees.

    They also receive money from county governments with Allen County providing $62,000 annually and Auglaize County providing about $30,000 annually. Huizinga said the Lima airport sold about $420,000 in fuel, which generates $28,350 in taxes. They also paid $46,226 in property taxes, which totals $74,576 — $12,576 more than the county’s subsidy.

    Huizinga and Stroh said they believe general aviation airports connect the country. Stroh said once a general aviation airport closes, they typically do not reopen.

    “I understand the economies of scale work better where you have a single asset serving a larger territory, but at the same time you have to close a number of smaller local airports to make one larger regional airport then all those airplanes will move to that regional airport,” Stroh said.

    He said in the past when they have done this, it moves owners of airplanes just far enough away that they will sell their aircraft because it is no longer easy to use or convenient to use and this harms even the regional airport.

    “Each airport has to speak for itself, but the Lima Allen County Airport has a long history of serving and generating revenue within our community,” Huizinga said. “No one really asks what it cost to construct ‘on ramps’ or ‘off ramps’ along the interstate. Airports like the Lima Allen County Airport are the ramps that connect us to outside economies. You need to also know that all airports are not publicly owned and some are private.”

    A privately owned airport is operated in Putnam County.

    In Allen County, Huizinga said the local airport supports more than 50 jobs and generates almost $2 million in revenue for the community.

    The stance for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog that serves as an independent voice for American taxpayers working to ensure that the federal government spends taxpayer dollars responsibly and operates within its means, would favor an independent study be conducted.

    “I think it would be worthwhile to actually know what are the real benefits rather than what people say are the benefits who are from general aviation airports and we need to know their impact on the commercial airports nearby and also are the users really paying for them and it is stuck on the general public,” Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Steve Ellis said. “That way we can argue about the facts and make a conscious decision before the next aviation reauthorization, which is just more than a year from now, about how this program should be structured.”

    Ellis said the organization has a problem with commercial fliers providing the money to fund general aviation airports.

    “Our main concern has been cross-subsidies through the airport improvement program, which is the revenues generated by ticket taxes, which are not coming from general aviation airports, and that money being used on improvements at general aviation airports,” Ellis said, explaining that about 15 percent of each ticket helps fund the Airport Improvement Program. “The argument has always been the use of general aviation reduces the impact and use of regular commercial airports.”

    Huizinga argued there also is a 19 cents per gallon aviation fuel tax, which helps fund the FAA Airport Improvement Program so all airports are contributing.

    Between 1981 and 2009, the Lima Allen County Airport received 13 grants totaling $5.4 million, the Neil Armstrong Airport received 12 grants totaling $3.36 million and Putnam County received six grants totaling $1.02 million.The Bluffton Airport received 10 grants for $2.39 million.

    The Findlay Airport received the most with 19 grants totaling $21.7 million. Hardin County was at the other end of the spectrum with eight grants for $987,354.

    Ellis said his organization believes some commercial airports should be closed and “some of these low-use airports that it would be more cost-effective and faster for the flying public to have bus connections from these areas to the hub airports.”

    “Eliminating some small airports and creating larger regional airports certainly has to be contemplated and what is the good being served here, what is the traveling public and by extension the taxpayer getting on a return in our investment,” Ellis said. “A part of that would be that general aviation users pay their fair share to ensure there is a market signal, what is the demand for this airport and does it really make sense to continue or is it something that shouldn’t be subsidized by the federal government. If private interests wants to keep it going then let them keep it going.”