Sunday, August 11, 2013

Upgrades to increase airport's importance to Coshocton region: Richard Downing (I40), Ohio

Jim Karas fuels a visiting plane at the Richard Downing Airport in Coshocton. New fuel trucks allow easier fueling for planes, and the airport prides itself on offering some of the lowest aviation gas prices in the state. 

COSHOCTON — Improvements in the past 10 years have elevated the economic importance of the Richard Downing Airport in Coshocton County.

A new terminal building in 2003 and expansion of the runway to 5,001 feet from 4,100 feet completed in 2010 have increased traffic from about 12,500 aircraft per year to about 18,000 aircraft in 2012. Administrator Bethel Toler said a bulk of the increase has been from corporate jets.

Richard Downing Airport has always been a general aviation airport catering to small planes and private fliers. However, with the expanding global marketplace, Toler said more executives are flying to outlying facilities for business.

Toler said an economic impact study about 10 years ago had the airport responsible for about $27 million to the local economy, and he would guess that number has gone up because of increased corporate use.

“Maybe 10 to 15 years ago, (airports) weren’t that important, but now they are,” he said. “If people own a business, they’re not going to be from around here, they’re going to be out of state. That’s the way they get around. They don’t want to drive; they want to fly.”

Coshocton Port Authority Director Dorothy Skowrunski said studies show 85 percent of new or expanding businesses are located within 15 miles of an airport capable of handling jet aircraft.

She said almost all the businesses she talks with place airport access as a top priority. That becomes even more important as the oil and gas industry looks to increase hydraulic fracturing in the county in the next few years, she added.

Airport offerings

Edward Farnham, of Medina, often stops at the Coshocton airport when doing recreational flying in his Beechcraft Bonanza.

“I’ve always received great service here. I don’t mind pumping the fuel myself, like other airports have you do, but why not go somewhere where they do it for you and it’s cheaper,” he said.

Toler said the airport is usually among the cheapest on fuel prices in the state. He said they try to keep their profit margins lower than larger airports to draw in recreational fliers. Currently, gas is about $5.56 a gallon for 100LL Avgas, or standard plane fuel, at the airport, with a nickel discount per gallon for people paying in cash.

The price also is guaranteed daily on the airport’s website, which Toler said other airports don’t do. They have fuel trucks instead of stationary fuel stations, which a lot of general aviation airports don’t have, Toler said. That makes fueling quicker and more convenient, which also appeals to corporate jets, he said.

According to the website, the average price of 100LL fuel in the northeastern United States is $6.62 a gallon. Standard fuel prices per gallon at nearby airports include $6.53 at the Zanesville Municipal Airport, $5.87 at the Knox County Airport and $5.60 at Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia. The website lists the Carroll County Airport as the cheapest nearby at $5.47 a gallon, but it’s self-serve only and has just a 4,300-foot runway.

Along with fueling, the airport also offers maintenance and repairs through Missionary Maintenance Services. The nonprofit organization trains mechanics for work on planes used in Christian missionary work. MMS leases land for its buildings from the airport.

MedFlight has a landing pad there, and Toler said the airport has a portable helicopter pad for the main apron.

Toler also gives flying lessons. He currently has two students.

Having a modern terminal building also is an attraction for pilots, he said. The terminal offers a lobby with televisions and couches, a conference room, a pilot’s lounge, a pilot’s shower, bathrooms and a kitchen area.

“This building has really added to the business aspect for the county and for (the airport),” Toler said. “We had some NetJets users in here for the first time the other day, and they couldn’t believe it. They said they thought they were coming into some little country airport. They said they’d like to come back.”

The airport offers rental car service through Mission Auto Connection. It has a car and van for general use as well for the cost of $5. The airport has four part-time workers, with Toler as the only full-time employee. There is no cost for airplanes flying in and parking.

There also is an outside deck area, which recently became home to The Depot’s Patio Grill. Owners of The Depot Restaurant & Pub in Dresden are offering barbecue and other food on weekends.

Another main attraction is the Coshocton Airport Amphitheater directly across from the terminal building. The venue is in its third season and hosts about five shows per summer. The next event will be the Crowtown Country Fest on Aug. 24, with Marty Stuart, the Kentucky Headhunters and Johnny Hiland.

The venue is governed by its own board and committees and is maintained through donations. It seats about 2,500 people.

The other main attraction bringing nonfliers to the airport is the Wings Over Coshocton Air Show, returning Sept. 21 after a three-year hiatus. Toler said public and business support and response has led to its return after the Great Recession put the event, which features numerous stunt fliers, on the back burner. He said the most recent air show, in 2010, drew about 9,000 spectators.

Coshocton County Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Jan Myers said events at the Coshocton Airport Amphitheater and the Wings Over Coshocton Air Show also help to increase the facility’s profile with travelers.

“In my mind, events are a foot in the door,” Myers said of the air show and amphitheater acts. “They hopefully get people to say, ‘Hey, we need to come back here and spend some time.’ ”

Dal Donovan, retired president of Jones Metal and an aviation enthusiast, will serve as grand marshal of the air show.

“I think (the airport) is the most important thing Coshocton has. It’s a tremendous asset. There’s a lot of small towns that don’t have anything like this beautiful building or runway,” he said.

Airport history and improvements

The Coshocton County Regional Airport Authority was created in 1965. The estate of Richard Downing, a Cleveland businessman and aviation enthusiast, donated 324 acres for airport construction. A runway, taxiway and parking apron were built with a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation. The airport opened in 1969.

Major renovations began in 2002, with a new aircraft apron, extension of the access road and lighting. The new terminal, gas main installation and security fencing came the next year. The runway expansion was done in two phases in 2009 to 2010. Since 1968, more than $9.7 million in federal, state and local funding has gone into the airport.

The runway expansion allows the Gulf Stream 2 to be the largest airplane the airport can accept for landing and takeoff. The old apron was able to hold only about eight airplanes, while the new apron can hold about 27, depending on size.

Toler said the next project is to build a hanger for overnight parking of corporate jets and purchase of a deicing pad. He said the hangar would be used mainly in the winter to keep planes out of the elements, and the deicer would allow them to be ready more quickly for takeoff in the mornings. He said the project estimate is about $400,000 and that the airport is looking for grant funding.

Economic Impact

Toler said some additions, such as a conference room, were done with an eye for corporations.

He said local businesses often use it for meetings with executives who fly in from out of town and some oil and gas representatives also have used it recently.

“We wanted this specifically for business because it attracts other businesses to want to come in,” Toler said.

The big drive to appeal to businesses has been the runway expansion. Toler said executives with RockTenn; AK Steel; McWane Inc., which owns Clow Water Systems; and Voltaren in Newcomerstown, among others, have started using the airport with the runway expansion. NetJets and Exec Jets also have become frequent airport users.

Toler said last year a corporate executive from Washington, D.C., flew in for a business meeting with Organic Technologies one morning and flew out to make another meeting back in Washington, D.C., by 1:30 p.m. that afternoon.

“They really couldn’t come in until we had (the runway expansion). They had to go into Zanesville or Columbus and then drive in,” Toler said of executives on corporate jets.

Skowrunski said other port authority directors in the region have expressed envy of the business potential the runway expansion offers Coshocton. She said many counties are looking to expand their airport runways to handle increased traffic from oil and gas companies especially.

“Even though we’re a small community, we want to be represented globally,” she said. “For site selection, that’s the first thing (companies) are looking at — how close are you to airports and interstates.”

Myers said corporate personnel coming in might not be considered tourism to some, but anytime someone comes in from outside the area and spends money, it’s tourism.

“Corporate tourism is huge in bigger cities. It’s a smaller piece of the pie here, but it’s still a piece of it,” she said. “If they’re spending the night here, eating here, it’s tourism.”

Myers said she doesn’t have exact numbers, but she knows many traditional tourists fly into Coshocton for festivals and other recreational activities. She said the low fuel prices encourages fliers to come in, and some will grab lunch at a local restaurant or play a round of golf at a local course before flying out again.

“Some of these pilots just fly around to different towns to eat. It’s part of the appeal of going somewhere,” she said. “Any type of transportation bringing people into our community is a positive thing.”

Airport History and Milestones

• 1965: The Coshocton County Regional Airport Authority was created.
• 1967: The CCRAA received 324 acres of reclaimed strip mine land from the heirs of Richard Downing. Downing was a Cleveland businessman and aviation enthusiast who founded the Downing Coal Co. in 1930.
• 1968: Peabody Coal Co. donated earthwork valued at $62,400 to level the site to be suitable for airport construction. The Ohio Department of Transportation gave a $100,000 grant for construction of a runway, taxiway and aircraft parking apron.
• 1969: The Richard Downing Airport was licensed and opened to the public.
• 1971: ODOT issued a $50,000 grant for construction of a terminal building.
• 1977: The aircraft parking apron was expanded with $230,000 in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.
• 1983: A taxiway was constructed from the apron to the south end of the runway with $685,170 in FAA funding.
• 2001: An Automated Weather Observing System was installed with $166,667 in FAA and local funding.

Story, Photos and Video: