Activity at Ross County’s Shoemaker Airport is bustling as airport operators continue improving facilities while looking at future options.
“Fuel prices are going down, everything’s starting to show up,” airport operator Jim Parks told Ross County Commissioners on Monday. “Our nighttime operations are alive, we’ve got our snow removal protocol set up — we’ve had a mild winter, which is really nice — but we’ve got it going on.”
Parks was visiting commissioners to talk about conditions at the airport and to discuss the possibility of buying back the large hangar on the property, for which about $5,000 in rent is paid monthly.
In addition to increased traffic at the airport, Parks said the relocation of a MedFlight base from Fairfield County to the Ross County Airport has made a significant impact, and that the airport’s repair activities also are booming. The work being done by the avionics shop in connection with the new, next-generation air traffic control automatic surveillance broadcast system, which is federally mandated to be completed by 2020, is contributing to the heavy workflow.
The airport in 2014 was upgraded to a category one facility when the weight-bearing capacity of its asphalt runway was determined to go from a 50,000-pound footprint to a 100,000-pound footprint. That change, which meant that aircraft up to 100,000 pounds could safely take off and land on the facility’s runway, was a game-changer for the facility.
“That’s your Gulfstream 5s, that’s your Gulfstream 6s, that’s your Global Expresses,” Parks said. “You’re talking 90 (thousand), 100,000-pound airplanes, not little Lear jets. We’re talking transport category, 15-, 20-passenger planes.”
Those are the aircraft associated with corporate business travel, and having an airport equipped to handle that traffic is seen as a large plus for ongoing economic development efforts in Ross County.
“We’ve got them all coming in,” Parks said. “You wouldn’t believe who comes to southern Ohio and uses that airport. It would surprise you.”
The ongoing priority is in maintaining the existing facilities as recommended by an Ohio Airports Economic Impact Study produced in 2014 by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation. Those priorities include pavement maintenance of the primary runway, which at the time was rated as satisfactory, pavement maintenance of all other paved areas that were rated as good, and some additional land acquisition.
All three areas have been getting attention, Parks said. On the land acquisition side, there are a pair of properties of interest that could be of use if obtained by the airport.
“It would just make that whole area, because you have that big hangar there, it would make a nice commercial area for any type of activity,” Parks said. “I believe the big hangar should be with that scenario because of the activity that could exist on that road, whether it be wanting to build another big hangar next to it or (something else, like additional parking).”
Parks said a friendly reminder may also be needed from commissioners for some of those tenants who utilize hangar space at the airport primarily for storage.
“There’s hangars out there that are full of copy machines, so we’re being used as a mini storage warehouse for that type of activity, and that’s not why we spent $20 million building a true regional airport,” Parks said. “There’s a big push to build about 50 t-hangars up at OSU airport and there’s a lot of people from Columbus that would like to be down here.”
County Administrator Brad Cosenza noted there is always a waiting list for people wanting to use the facilities.
County Commissioner Jim Caldwell said the board would need to look through the airport records and see what could be done regarding the hangar purchase.
According to the 2014 economic impact study, which was based on 2012 data, the local airport was responsible for 73 jobs, $1.9 million in payroll and $8.7 million in output of goods and services.