Friday, December 22, 2017

Geauga County Airport (7G8) has kept small-town feel in post 9/11 era

The Geauga County Airport in Middlefield Village and Township will celebrate 50 years on Sept. 29. Pictured are Patty Fulop, the board’s secretary/treasurer/manager and Board President William Meyer. 

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Geauga County Airport officially opened as part of a state initiative of then-Gov. James Rhodes to have an airport in every county.

Since that time, the 41-acre site — located in Middlefield Village and Township — has managed to retain its unique country charm.

Airports used to be a place where the public could easily hang out to watch planes take off and land, but that changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Geauga County Airport Authority Board President William Meyer.

“You’d see the typical kid looking through the fence, going up to the pilot and saying, ‘Hey mister, can I help you wash your airplane?’ And he wants a ride in exchange for that. This is one of the few places where that could still happen,” Meyer said. “Many airports now have a 10-foot high chain link fence all the way around it because Homeland Security wants that. But this is still an airport where people can walk up and enjoy it. I think that’s one of the things that sets us apart from many airports in the country.”

The Geauga County Airport services general aviation and incoming charter flights. It is also home to Air Methods MedEvac air ambulance, Cleveland Soaring Society (a glider club) and a chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, made up of hobbyists who build and renovate airplanes.

“The EAA pilots fly youth at no cost just to give them an experience in aviation and maybe spur some of them to get involved,” said Patty Fulop, the airport’s secretary/treasurer/manager. Current facilities include a 3,500-foot-long primary runway, two T-hangars, one private hangar, two community hangars, a pilot lounge and restroom facility.

Future plans include new LED runway lights, additional T-hangars and a paved parallel taxiway, said Fulop.

“Safety is always first and foremost,” she said. “We have no safety issues, and we don’t get a lot of noise complaints. We are meeting all the (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations. One future project is an FAA-mandated study to see if there is an issue with deer coming onto the runway since it’s not fenced.”

Fulop, who works part-time at the airport and part-time at Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby, is the Middlefield airport’s only non-contracted employee.

But there is always something going on at the all-weather site day and night.

“MedEvac has a 24-7 operation here,” Fulop said. “They always have four or five people on staff. We have 80 builders who come out to the airport. There are three builds going on right now within this building. Any Saturday morning, this place is hopping. I’d say we have 10 to 12 businesses that use the airport on a regular basis. And there is almost always somebody out in the workshop working. We’re used for business, but primarily this is an aviation enthusiast hobbyist’s airport.

“We also do a lot of tours. The kids are just so wide-eyed.”

The airport has 40 based aircraft — 33 of which are traditional piston engine aircraft. There are also two twin engines, the medical helicopter and six gliders.

“The Cleveland Soaring Society brings people from all over to take glider rides or learn how to fly,” she said. “I think that’s a great place to start. I think every pilot should be a glider pilot first. If something happens, you still have to be able to glide to the ground (without an engine). The glider group sometimes needs people to steady the wings because they’re so long. The kids are excited to run along with the planes. Around age 14, you can start to fly here. A few have gotten their glider ratings before they’ve gotten their driver’s license.”

Although small, Geauga County Airport has a mighty economic impact.

Each year, the airport creates 72 full-time equivalent jobs and puts $10.8 million into the county’s economy, according to a recent Ohio Airports Economic Impact Study.

“The airport is used a lot locally,” said Fulop. “When you come to the airport to work on your aircraft, you have to get lunch somewhere. If you come as a visitor, you go out to lunch or you go buy a quilt or you go see Amish country, so that’s tourist dollars.”

The airport is able to sustain itself in day-to-day operations through fuel sales and hangar rentals.

“We only need outside funding from the FAA to do capital projects,” Fulop said. “The local commissioners give us some type of match for grant projects.”

Meyer said the only hobbyist you won’t find at the Geauga County Airport are the warbirds, newly built replicas of vintage military aircraft.

“We don’t have any warbird activity here because we’re not big enough,” he said.

However, Meyer said the airport’s pilots are both highly-skilled and good people.

“The MedEvac pilots are very cautious and careful,” he added. “This group is very courteous pilots, and almost all are military-trained. Another one of our regulars does Pilots N Paws. He volunteers his time and aircraft to pick up and transport animals from kill shelters to no-kill shelters. He flies a (twin-turboprop) King Air 90.”

The airport board is made up of seven trustees — three are appointed by county commissioners, three by the board itself and one by Middlefield Village Council.

Meyer, of Hambden Township, is the son of a pilot. He began flying 43 years ago, learning at what was then called Medina County Airport.

Now a freelance instructor, Meyer has flown at many different airports throughout his career.

“Geauga County is my favorite airport,” he said. “It’s a nice place to be. It’s a place to hang out for grown ups as well as kids.”

Original article can be found here ➤

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