Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Air Travel Close to Home: Not Just a Fantasy

by Julie Cannold

The Gordon K. Bush Ohio University Airport received a federal grant for $800,000. Athens County leaders and local business owners joined Congressman Charlie Wilson at the airport Monday to discuss the impact a bigger airport can have on the community.

The airport is home to fifty aircraft and oversees 50,000 flights every year. It has an annual economic output of $15 million and is responsible for 160 jobs in the region. While the airport is the most advanced and active in all of Southeast Ohio, it is not a passenger-friendly airport. 33,000 passengers are forced to travel hours to get just to get to airports from Athens county, but officials are hoping that more money means increased access to OU’s airport.

Activity on the OU Airport Runway

On Demand Service?
According to airport director Ken Carley, a $50,000 grant is paying for a study of on-demand service for the region. The airport is looking into inexpensive, quiet, very fast jets that travel up to 400 miles per hour and have about four passenger seats.

The airport is asking for additional funding for 2009 to create more ramp space and build a commercial aviation hanger to make it possible for an airline to base its planes at the OU Airport, making it more likely that commercial lines will consider Athens a useful place for an airport. While many of these improvements will take time to implement, Carley says the first initiatives could be in place as early as next year.

Safety Improvements
The newest federal funds total almost $800,000 and will go toward:

1. A maintenance support facility
2. Creating safety precautions to make flying in all weather conditions easier
3. A runway approach lighting system
4. Two satellite-based approach radars
5. And purchasing land in the runway protection area to make control of the area easier and safer.

Airport Connection Between OU and Southeast Ohio
Even though the airport does belong to Ohio University, President Roderick McDavis sees the important connection between the university and the Athens Community. He recognizes that people from different areas of Southeast Ohio will all benefit from having an airport close to home. He says, "The university is part of the region and part of what we're all about is economic development and improving and enhancing the lives of the people in the area."

OU President Roderick McDavis talks about the economic impact air travel can have on the region

While President McDavis is looking forward to the increased usage, Representative Charlie Wilson, an Ohio University graduate, recognizes that not only can more access to commercial usage of the airport help local business, it also demonstrates the importance of cooperation between OU and the Southeast Ohio. Wilson knows "it is so important to realize that ability of the university to help businesses around us."

Representative Charlie Wilson discusses the connection between the economy, the community and the university

Economic Impact
Another partner in this project is the Athens Chamber of Commerce and the businesses it represents. Jennifer Simon, Chamber of Commerce CEO, believes it is imperative for businesses to travel and communicate with partners for expansion. She argues, "from a business perspective, our expansion surveys are telling us that we need these improved services."

Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Simon discusses boosting the Athens economy

One of Athens’ most profitable businesses is Diagnostic Hybrids. President and CEO David Scholl said he sees leverage, customized solutions, and results as three key features to a successful business. He says, "as businesses expand, there's an evolution that occurs where infastructural support services need to expand as well." He hopes the OU Airport can accomodate growing businesses.

Diagnostic Hybrids CEO talks about the importance of customized business solutions

With the cooperation of Ohio University, the airport, local businesses and the community, and Ohio representatives in Congress, the future of the Gordon K. Bush airport looks bright. These federal funds should make on-demand service and increased safety amenities available and lead to increased activity on the runway. A more active and accessible airport that is not hours away, will greatly benefit the region in more ways than one.

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