In the 1960s, Ohio Gov. James Rhodes mandated that each of the state’s 88 counties have a general aviation airport.
Three decades after Rhodes left office for the final time, Ohio has 97 publicly owned airports for general aviation — each claiming to be critical to local economic development — but only so much money to go around.
The state is in the process of collecting information on each airport in order to help decide how best to spend the limited amount of money for general aviation.
As part of the Ohio Airports Focus Study, the Ohio Department of Transportation is holding public meetings throughout the state in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration. A meeting on Tuesday in Springfield will gather local input.
The meeting will run from 2 to 4 p.m. at Avetec, located along U.S. 40 on Springfield’s east side.
While aviation-related sales in Ohio generate more than $20 million annually in state sales tax, according to ODOT, that money goes to the state’s general fund.
Through a competitive grant program, ODOT distributed only about $725,000 in 2012 to the state’s general aviation airports, the likes of which include Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport and Grimes Field in Urbana, both of which are owned by their respective city governments.
Even though the FAA last year spent about $26 million on general aviation airports in Ohio, the combined funding only addressed a fraction of requests.
“We’re in a time of limited resources for most things,” ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said Wednesday.
The state’s seven airports with commercial airline service aren’t included in the study, which is expected to issue its findings in the spring.
ODOT has stated it won’t be recommending airport closures, but Tom Franzen, assistant city manager for the city of Springfield, said he wouldn’t be surprised if hard choices need to be made.
“This is to gauge how active airports are,” said Franzen, who also serves as the city’s director of economic development.
“Are (97) airports necessary?” he said.
The study will assess the economic impact of each publicly owned airport and develop a framework for prioritizing improvement projects.
“Springfield-Beckley has been an important economic development amenity for many, many years,” Franzen said.
General aviation at Springfield-Beckley has picked up, Franzen said, in the three years since the Ohio Air National Guard’s imposing F-16 fighter jets went away and left the airport with a 9,000-foot primary runway and a 5,500-foot crosswind runway.
Despite that large size, which can accommodate heavy military transports, Springfield-Beckley has a general aviation budget that some consider modest.
Statewide, just 18 percent of general aviation airports have pavement that’s considered to be in good condition, according to ODOT.
Additional hangar space is needed at Springfield-Beckley in particular to accommodate a waiting list for space, Franzen said, but funding remains an issue.
Grimes Field in Urbana has a waiting list as well, said Carol Hall, airport manager.
“There’s just limited funds to do anything,” she said.
Used recently by a Learjet on area business, Grimes’ runway has cracks and needs to be resurfaced — repair work that looks to begin this month after a year delay — and the terminal is in need of remodeling, Hall said.
“You have to beg, borrow and steal to keep things in normal condition,” she said.