By: James Proffitt
December 27, 2011
PORTAGE TOWNSHIP — While contractors work to build a hangar, vintage airplane museum and retro diner on the southeast corner of the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport, the airport’s director has been formulating plans of his own from his office nearby.
“This is going to be a friendly, open place for everyone,” said Stan Gebhardt, who has been in charge of the 300-plus acre, two-runway airport since August. “This is a public place, and it’s open to everyone.”
Gebhardt said the airport, which is operated jointly by Erie and Ottawa counties, will be a destination for pilots and aspiring pilots and history buffs, families and those curious about aviation in the near future.
Included in Gebhardt’s plans are the availability of flying lessons and a home-base for owners of light sport aircraft, which he describes as smaller, lighter airplanes than general aviation planes like Pipers, Cherokees and Cessnas.
“You can get an LSA license with less flying time than a regular pilot’s license,” Gebhardt said. “They are less expensive, they don’t use aviation fuel and they burn half the fuel.”
Gebhardt described the economical planes as a great way for people to get into aviation.
“Plus it’s a great way to learn to fly,” he said. “It’s all the same principles.”
While the availability of flying lessons is in the future at the airport, so are more fly-ins, or gatherings of pilots from other areas.
During the autumn, Gebhardt said, one fly-in resulted in more than 40 pilots from the region showing up in their planes.
In 2012, he said, there are at least eight fly-ins planned, including one that will feature a bluegrass concert and a hangar dance.
If things work out, Gebhardt said, members of the public will be able to check out the planes. And that, he said, could include opportunities for children to receive free airplane rides.
“If it’s not promoted, the interest just dies,” he said.
Gebhardt, 55, has been flying since he was 16.
Ottawa County Visitors Bureau Executive Director Larry Fletcher said he’s excited about the new, expanded tourism opportunities on the horizon at the airport.
Especially, he said, package vacation deals.
“I thought it was a fabulous idea for people that want to add a sightseeing trip,” Fletcher said. “There’s definitely a market for it.”
Fletcher said bundling together everything needed for a vacation will bring new tourism business to the area.
Gebhardt said it makes vacations simple and hassle-free.
“Park here, fly over to the islands,” he said. “A golf cart will be waiting, and your hotel will be ready.”
Gebhardt said he would like to see more people fly to the Lake Erie islands instead of taking the ferries.
Fletcher said the most popular page on the bureau website is the package deals page, where similar offers are currently made by at least one ferry company.
Gebhardt said his airport is blessed with the surrounding attractions, which include waterfowl hunting, fishing, birding, the islands and attractions across the bay, like Cedar Point and Kalahari.
One pilot recently flew from California to the area to hunt waterfowl. He stayed less than two days, Gebhardt said, and flew back to California.
Ottawa County Commissioner Jim Sass said the airport has served as a good asset for the county and he looks forward to its improvement.
“The museum is really unique,” he said. “Any kind of family activities will be good.”
Sass said he’d like to see a hot air balloon event held at the airport one day.
Gebhardt said he’d be open to the idea.
“We’re going to make this a friendly place where people want to come to all year long,” he said.
Source: THE NEWS MESSENGER