Once a hidden gem in the aviation community, a local airport’s popularity has taken off over the last five years and looks to continue by getting the word out locally and internationally.
The Erie-Ottawa International Airport, KPCW, located at 3255 East State Road, largely owes its popularity to location, according to director Stan Gebhardt.
“We’re very fortunate location-wise because we set right here,” Gebhardt said. “One side of us is Sandusky Bay, the other side of us is the lake, the islands, Cedar Point, Kalahari and all the tourist attractions here. It’s a huge, huge factor in what kind of traffic we attract.”
Gebhardt described the airport as mid-sized, with traffic revolving primarily around business aviation and general aviation, such as tourism.
Because mid-sized airports do not have scheduled flights from major commercial airlines, Gebhardt said they have to build their business around supporting local businesses that can benefit from aviation.
But not of all those depend on the draw of tourists.
“A lot of these local businesses use aviation to get from point A to point B in an economical and timely fashion,” Gebhardt said. “It’s a way for the businesses in this area to capitalize on quick and economical transportation.”
Businesses such as ThorAir, which has its own hangar at the airport, and Biro Manufacturing, of Marblehead, would have to commute to Cleveland or Toledo to do their business flying.
While Erie-Ottawa opened its airport operations in July 1971, and has remained in its prime location since, for a long time it remained relatively unknown to the aviation community nationally.
“It’s amazing to me how many pilots that have been around for 20 to 30 years and didn’t know we existed,” Gebhardt said. “They say, ‘Oh my gosh, we didn’t know that airport was even there. We’ve been flying that area for decades and we did not know they were there.’”
So, since coming aboard as director around five years ago, Gebhardt looked to focus on getting the word out, as well as beginning to offer key services sought by pilots working in business aviation.
Things such as lavatory service, heated hangar space and basic de-icing were added, which are especially needed during the colder season and inclement weather.
Another major update was the addition of a ground power unit, or GPU, which is a generator that supplies an aircraft with power to start, or to keep its air-conditioning or heat on without needing to run one of its jet engines.
“That’s been huge,” Gebhardt said. “A lot of jets won’t come into an airport that doesn’t have a ground power unit.”
Adding those services allows the airport to handle the jets fit for mid-sized airports.
“Those are things we’ve added just to make it conducive for business aviation – to come here and to stay here.”
They have also added the ability to clear international flights with U.S. Customs.
General aviation, such as recreational flights, has a significant impact on the airport and local economy as well.
Gebhardt estimated the airport receives 5,000 to 6,000 general aviation planes per year, up from around a couple thousand four years ago.
Even at that time, though, the economic benefits of the airport were considerable.
A few years ago, the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation released an extensive study based on 2012 data that found 198 jobs, $6.3 million in payroll and $18.6 million in output of goods and services can be attributed to Carl R. Keller Field, KPCW, at the Erie-Ottawa International Airport.
“The reality of it is, if they have an airplane, they’re probably middle-class or above, income-wise,” Gebhardt said. “So they have some money to spend and they’re here to have fun.”
In November, the airport’s growth and continued economic impact was recognized by Ohio legislators, which provided in the state’s budget bill $639,854 to Erie-Ottawa as part of the Ohio Airport Grant Program.
Among the program’s total $5.83 million allotted to 24 airports across the state for fiscal year 2016, Erie-Ottawa topped the list in the amount awarded with 11 percent.
State Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, said the state recognized the value the airport has on the economic development of our region thanks to the work of Gebhardt and others.
State Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, said that while there is room to strive for even further growth of the airport, there is also the need to maintain its high-quality infrastructure, which the grant funding helps ensure.
“We have this tremendous amount of growth and activity here, but we’re not there yet,” Arndt said of the 10,000 enplanement mark that would make the airport eligible for an additional $1 million per year in federal aid from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Gebhardt said the other major efforts they have made in the last several years are looking to get the community involved.
One of those is by growing new pilots locally. The airport hosts a number of pilot instruction courses, such as those offered year-round by Griffing Flying Service. In the summer, the Erie-Ottawa International Airport organizes its annual “Junior Pilot Camp.”
It also hosts a number of popular events throughout the year, primarily located at it neighboring partner, the Liberty Aviation Museum.
As a public airport, Gebhardt noted that Erie-Ottawa is funded by taxpayer money.
“Let’s get the community involved because it’s a resource for all of us and it’s something that all of us should benefit from,” he said.