People often drive by two small Sandusky County airports without realizing how important the facilities are to the community, providing education and economic growth — and literally saving lives as home base to two busy helicopter rescue operations.
Sandusky County Airport, at 1500 County Road 220 in Clyde, has played an integral part in transportation in the county since opening in June 2000, providing emergency and law enforcement services including Life Flight and ProMedica Air and Mobile — two emergency medical support helicopters centrally located in Clyde.
“It’s like having EMS, but without wheels,” Sandusky County Commissioner Dan Polter said.
The helicopters primarily respond to injury crashes, and their ability to transport a victim by air has allowed for faster response times, Sandusky County Airport Manager David Wadsworth said.
“Sometimes minutes make the difference. Dispatch is excellent. This is the busiest Life Flight in the market,” Wadsworth said.
Also based at the Sandusky County Airport is a plane used by the Ohio Highway Patrol to fly over highways in the county to track speeders.
They use white road markings where a parallel line intersects a perpendicular line to help pilots judge distance and measure vehicles’ speed.
“They know how long it should take to get from one (line) to the other. If they go too fast, the ‘bear in the air’ will alert deputies on the road,” Polter said.
The airport is not just for air rescue and road patrols.
The 5,500-foot-long landing strip accommodates local businesses to ship or receive parts for major area companies such as Whirlpool, Green Bay Packaging, Heinz, and Norfolk and Southern Railroad.
Local business men and women also use the airport to fly into the county from neighboring states
“We see about 6,500 movements a year. That is takeoffs and landings,” Wadsworth said.
Whether air traffic is up or down in a particular year, Polter said local airports are important.
“It’s like having a road. You may only have two people drive a road each day, but it is important to them. You may only have one or two planes land on a day, but it’s important to them,” he said.
If the airport were to shut down, Life Flight services would be forced to move and the county would have to seek Life Flight services from either Tiffin or Norwalk, the two closet stations.
County Commissioner Charlie Schwochow said he likes having Life Flight at the county airport because it provides a “centralized location” capable of responding to crashes faster than dispatching Life Flight from other counties.
Wadsworth said he hopes to grow the airport in the coming years, including using space owned by the airport to develop airport-centric industry capable of servicing and refurbishing planes.
“I’d like to see aviation-related industry. We see a lot of potential to have something here where we can do engine overhauls and plane service. The list is endless,” Wadsworth said.
The airport is reliant on grants and private funds, despite being the only airport selling jet fuel in the county.
“We follow regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration and are able to get 90 percent funding from them,” Wadsworth said.
The other 10 percent is provided by the county, the Ohio Department of Transportation and rental profits from farmland the airport owns.
“We are about $200,000 in income and outflow,” said Wadsworth.
The second airport in the county is Fremont Airport LLC., which provides training to future pilots, many of whom go on to get licenses to fly everything from small craft to airliners. Fremont Airport is used primarily as an educational tool for future pilots, and is locally owned and operated by Rex Damschroder.
The air strip is smaller than the one at Sandusky County Airport, but Damschroder said if a young boy or girl is interested in learning to fly, Fremont Airport is the closest classroom they will find.
“You can get your pilot’s license at your pace. We’ve had kids get up in the air in six to nine months or even someone who got theirs in 48 hours,” Damschroder said. “Every kid that dreams of flying has to start somewhere.”
The airport opened in 1963, funded entirely with private money. Damschroder said he has been a part of the airport for 50 years, including learning how to fly.
Anyone can learn at the airport’s flight school or youth flight academy, which runs 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday through March 19. That education can springboard new pilots looking to fly for personal reasons or to work for an airline, like Damschroder’s son, Alex, who flies for Delta airlines and lives in Port Clinton.
“It all starts with a little flight school like this,” Damschroder said.