Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Big Plans for the Future of the Ohio University Airport

Athens MidDay reporter Sara Goldenberg says the Ohio University Airport plans for new additions

Airport Director Ken Carley explains the plans for airport expansion:

Gordon K. Bush Airport Director Ken Carley said he plans to have a small commuter airline flying into Athens within the next two years.

The airport has been working to bring in a new market for several years now. Carley said plans for a scheduled air service were in motion in 2003 after the airport was last expanded. But even an extended runway and a new terminal weren’t enough for those plans to take off.

“The infrastructure of the airport really wasn’t ready to receive the service at the time,” Carley said. But he said a small commuter airline would not require many improvements.

“We’re really in a position where we’re pretty much able to provide that service with the infrastructure that’s in place today,” he said. However, some airline-specific improvements, like additional hangars, would have to be made.

A two-part study has helped Carley identify a commuter airline as a practical market that is sustainable in the long run.

“This would be a logical airport for some of those air service providers to consider. The piece that we need to answer for them is really what is the demand,” he said.

City Council member Amy Flowers questions the demand and potential business impact of an expanded airport.

“I don’t really see much local use out of that airline considering we’re not that far away from another airline,” Flowers said. “I think it would have a minute impact on businesses.”

So who would use the airline? In the study, people living within a one-hour drive time from the airport are considered potential ticket buyers. Carley says the cost to fly would be high in the beginning and will cater to business travelers. However, it is unlikely that will last.

“Ultimately, that will trickle down, and the price point will continue to drop to the point where leisure travelers might start to use the service as well,” he said.

Eventually, the price of tickets will match the costs of flying out of Port Columbus International Airport. And Carley said the savings in time, gas money and other travel expenses will make the OU airport competitive with nearby airports.

In addition to providing more travel options for people in and around Athens, the new airline could contribute to the local economy. A 2006 study showed the airport has a $15 million output into the community and provides 160 jobs.

“We’re a pretty healthy economic engine for the community,” Carley said. He is working with the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Ohio University to find funding and grants for the plans.

“There’s a lot of synergy that could be created in terms of these public and private partnerships,” he said.

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