City could end funding for air traffic tower

Springfield leaders hoped for new military mission after base’s planes departed.

The city has spent $1.3 million to keep the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport air traffic control tower open since military planes departed here in 2011, all in hopes of landing another mission.

Now, Springfield leaders are considering scaling back funding or closing the tower altogether. Doing so, though, could result in a loss of some general aviation business.

The city also might hire a consultant to analyze airport operations, which officials believe can be profitable through possible future revenue from the unmanned aerial systems industry.

The city discussed the future of the airport at Tuesday night’s budget meetings.

In August, the city agreed to spend $275,000 to operate the air traffic control tower at Springfield-Beckley until next October.

However, the airport fund subsidy could be reduced from $400,000 last year to $175,000 in 2014, according to the city’s preliminary budget. Future services at the tower would not be paid out of the general fund, but leaders are looking for other ways to pay for the services, Finance Director Mark Beckdahl said.

The consultant will analyze the effects of possible reductions at the tower and the entire airport. They’re still in the process of hiring the consultant, and they hope to spend approximately $10,000.

City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said the city will consider seeking state assistance or operating the tower different hours, among others.

The city also provides fire services and airfield and grounds maintenance on the 1,800-acre complex. If it ceased air traffic control and fire operations at the airport, it could lose its Part 139 certificate, which allows nine- to 30-passenger aircraft to use the airport.

“When you start eliminating these amenities like air traffic control or navigational aids, you start potentially to restrict the types of aircraft you can host at the airport,” said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development.

The $1.3 million spent on the tower since Air National Guard flights ended in 2011 includes approximately $758,000 in city money and $545,000 in grant money.

The city has five certificates of authorization, or COAs, with the Federal Aviation Administration to fly unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, at the airport, including Sinclair Community College and the Army National Guard.

Springfield is part of the Ohio/Indiana proposal to be one of six sites nationally selected to test UAS in local airspace. Franzen said the FAA-UAS test site selection is still ongoing, but “all indications” are that they’ll meet their timeline of choosing the sites by the end of the year.

Franzen believes revenue from the designation could offset the costs to help keep the air traffic control tower open. The designation may not pay off the tower entirely in the first year, Franzen said. However, it could by the second or third year, if it meets the projections by the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex, which was recently located at the Nextedge Applied Research and Technology Park in Springfield.

The UAS market is predicted to generate more than $82.1 billion in the first decade after they’ve been cleared for takeoff by the FAA.

The revenue generated by the UAS designation, Franzen said, would equal approximately one-third of the cost of the control tower for the first year, but the second-year projections are “more robust.”

However, it’s tough to estimate the market for an industry “that’s never existed before,” he said.

The city believed an operating tower would be critical in securing a training mission for the 445th Airlift Wing Air Force Reserve based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The 445th Airlift flies C-17 cargo transport planes, and the unit currently trains for assault landings at out-of-state sites.

Local officials believe the training could be performed in Springfield to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The existing Springfield runways could be used temporarily until a new strip is built at a cost of $10 million to $15 million.

However, funding for military projects in recent years has slowed the process considerably, Franzen said.

“We don’t feel as confident, if we ever felt confident, about the assault strip being a near-term opportunity for us,” Franzen said. “We know it’s going to take time.”

Franzen said there’s no sense in keeping the tower open for that mission when they know they could activate it in the future.

The city is also requesting state capital funds for the construction of a $2.3 million hangar project at the airport, which includes box hangars for general aviation, T-Hangars and a larger hangar for both UAS and general aviation. If the funds are awarded, the city could also generate revenue through rentals of the hangars.

Earlier this week, the state Controlling Board approved $10 million to develop research and technology facilities in the defense sector. Commissioner Dan Martin mentioned seeking funding from that to help keep the tower operational.

“We’re actively engaged with the (Dayton Development Coalition) and our legislators and others on funding the UAS test center, as well as our initiatives,” Franzen said.

In other news:

• Mike Calabrese, the director of Opportunities for Individual Change of Clark County, was appointed to the National Trail Parks and Recreation District Board. The appointment fills one of the vacancies created by the departure of board members Terry Groeber and Susie Samuels.

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