Butler County has moved into a taxiing rather than take off mode in developing plans to better Hogan Field, the regional airport.
More than two months ago, the county ratified a new five-year deal with its fixed-base operator Cincinnati Jet Center, and as a result, the finances at the airport have improved. County officials say they want to take a deliberative approach to improving the asset that had a $40.6 million economic impact on the area in 2014.
County Administrator Charlie Young said they have been meeting informally with surrounding communities to gauge what they and their businesses need the airport to be. He said full scale group discussions will likely resume in the spring. A year ago, the county approached several other jurisdictions about contributing cash to help with FAA matching funds for projects. The commissioners then backed off, saying they needed to get a better handle on airport finances.
“We are really moving much slower now than we were previously,” Young said. “We’ve got the finances into a little better position than they were before and that was one of the commitments we made well over a year ago when we first began having discussions with other communities. We still have some opportunities we can put into play.”
The amended contract with Cincinnati Jet includes a $3,105 rent increase with an automatic 2 percent — or equal to the consumer price index whichever is higher — increase, bringing the total up to $33,407. The fuel fees paid to the county will go from 8 cents to 12 cents, with two, 2-cent hikes in subsequent years.
The contract also calls for Cincinnati Jet to implement a business plan that includes “viable plans for the FBO’s future operation, growth and expansion” for the airport. The commissioners have long lamented the airport is not self-sustaining.
According to the study the county commissioned, it cost $257,133 to run the airport last year, and revenues from the leases, gas and other sources came in at $259,843. This year revenues are only expected to top expenses by $9,277 but that does not include the $154,912 debt service payment.
The study also said sharing an airport manager with Middletown could make fiscal sense. Young said there is no hurry on that front either, but they are still interested in holding the discussions.
“We are really just getting our ducks in a row out at the airport and thinking things through since we’ve gotten the extended agreement with our fixed base operator,” Young said. “We are just taking a hard look at things Middletown has the study and we’ll be getting back together with them. They had some plans for some things that they want to do at their airport as well. I think it would make sense to wait until they get some of those things taken care of.”
Matt Eisenbraun, the city’s economic program manager, said he will be traveling to Detroit on Thursday to meet with the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss the city’s long range plans and funding needs for the airport. With one of the largest “uncontrolled” runways in an eight-state area, Middletown plans to get into the “industrial aviation business.” Eisenbraun said they plan to go after companies who want to park jumbo jets there for months of repairs.
“We’re going to move forward with projects and getting the FAA on board with your plans and your project is a good thing, doing that as early in the process as possible” Eisenbraun said. “Basically, we’ll say, here’s what we’re looking at for the next five years; are you pretty much in agreement?”
The FAA pays for 90 percent of major projects at airports and now the Ohio Department of Transportation has also stepped up, increasing funding from around $800,000 to $6 million a year for the next two fiscal years, to be used at airports like those in Butler County.
The county commissioners recently approved applying for $116,993 of the state allocation to replace lighting at the airport. Rogers said they are focusing on budget items like this grant right now, talks with Middletown and other jurisdictions will come later.
“We’re not going to do anything until after the first of the year because we’re busy on these other things with the budget process,” Rogers said.
ECONOMIC IMPACT OF BUTLER COUNTY AIRPORTS
The Ohio Department of Transportation recently issued a study of the impact of the state’s airports on economic development. They measured the number of jobs and payroll attributable to airport activity as well as the output, or the value of goods and services linked to that activity.
BUTLER COUNTY REGIONAL AIRPORT
Payroll: $12.5 million
Output: $40.6 million
MIDDLETOWN’S HOOK FIELD
Payroll: $6.8 million
Output: $22.2 million
MIAMI UNIVERSITY AIRPORT