DARKE COUNTY — For a number of reasons, the Darke County Airport has come under a great deal of scrutiny from county residents.
The enactment of a $10 permissive tax by the Darke County Board of Commissioners, due to begin in 2018, with the first two years of proceeds from the tax slated for use on nearby Chase Road, has caused many to question the resources being used by the county to support the airport, a facility used by few people and businesses.
Currently there are two businesses that utilize airport hangars: Midmark Corporation and J. Crane, Inc. The remainder are used by private pilots.
The Darke County airport was first constructed in 1964, then privately owned. The county has owned the property since 1967. It acquired ownership of the hangars on the property in December 2014. Since that time, the commissioners have negotiated lease agreements with the hangar tenants.
Though millions of dollars, either through grants or directly from county funds, have been put into the airport, the facility runs at a loss.
Darke County Business Administrator John Cook provided The Daily Advocate with the county’s year-to-date financials. It shows the airport’s expenses for the current year-to-date total $101,281.94. In that same time, the airport has seen $57,201.28 in revenue.
In summary, the airport has seen a loss of $44,080.66 for the year.
Cook said expenses are higher this year due to upgrades to fuel pumps and cleaning of the in-ground fuel tanks.
“Year-to-date we are experiencing an operational loss at the airport,” he said. “We need to continue to work on methods to increase revenue.”
Increasing the airport’s revenue is one of the challenges facing the county.
The airport’s day-to-day operations are overseen by Dave Spillers, who is there to assist pilots in refueling or to look after the airport’s buildings.
Spillers, however, is not licensed to do mechanical work. Thus, Darke County Commissioner Mike Rhoades explained one of the ways the commissioners hope to increase revenue is to contract with a fixed base operator, stationed at the airport, who could work on planes.
“If we can hire ourselves a licensed fixed base operator to work on planes as a licensed mechanic, he or should could fix planes, giving us extra revenue,” he said.
Rhoades also said that one unnamed business interest has explored the possibility of leasing a building in order to fix or sell planes at the airport.
“It’s not anything for certain at this point,” he said.
Cook explained that having a licensed fixed base operator will open up more chances to increase profitability.
The hiring of a fixed base operator could offer, for example, flight training; aircraft charter; air taxi; freight hauling; aircraft rental, repair and sales; repair and maintenance of aircraft accessories; aircraft radio, communications, and navigation equipment maintenance and repair; aerial photography, advertising, surveying; and aerial application (spraying, dusting and seeding).
Though the airport is running at a loss, Rhoades pointed to a number of grants the county has received from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that have assisted the board in maintaining and improving the airport.
“The FAA grants have provided an avenue which gives us the opportunity to maximize taxpayer dollars to pay for improvements,” he said.
The county has seen the bulk of its FAA grants for improvements awarded beginning in 2004:
- 2004 — Received a 95/5 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the amount of $95,252: $30,035 to rehabilitate the runway with crack sealing, repaint markings and install obstruction lighting; $26,980 for land acquisition appraisals, review and negotiations; $38,237 for design and bid of obstruction removal (ditch closure).
- 2005 — Received a 95/5 grant from the FAA in the amount of $17,697 to improve airport storm drainage (design and bid project).
- 2006 — Received a 95/5 grant from the FAA in the amount of $74,253 to contract and complete the airport drainage project.
- 2007 — Received a 95/5 grant from the FAA in the amount of $229,296 to install an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS).
- 2008 — Received a 95/5 grant from the FAA in the amount of $71,250 to acquire land for runway approach protection (approx. 11.93 acres).
- 2009 — Received a 95/5 grant from the FAA in the amount of $272,246 to acquire land for runway approach protection (approx. 48.6 acres).
- 2010 — Received an 80/20 grant from ODOT Aviation in the amount of $402,000 and 95/5 grant from the FAA in the amount of $109,762 to rehabilitate the runway.
- 2011 — The county received a 95/5 FAA grant for reimbursement for two parcels of land that they purchased for airport use. The total project cost was $189,052 and the FAA provided $179,599 in grant funding.
- 2012 — The county received an FAA grant (3-39-0082-0912) for Preliminary Design of Chase Road improvements in order to close S.R. 242 west of the runway because the road traverses the Runway Protection Zone and appears to be a slight obstruction to a 20:1 approach slope from the existing threshold location. The FAA decided not to proceed with the work before the project was complete. The total project cost was $31,062 and the FAA provided $27,956 in grant funding. The local share of this project was $3,106. This project has been closed out and final payments were made.
- 2013 — The county received a 95/5 FAA grant for reimbursement for four parcels of land that had been originally purchased by the county for the airport (Parcels A, B, C and D). The FAA provided $83,201 in grant funding.
- 2014 — The county received a 95/5 FAA grant for acquisition of the main Through-the-Fence operators at the airport, the Spillers family. They owned five parcels of land (Parcels 1-5) north of the county property that contains the runway and parallel taxiway which included aircraft hangars and maintenance hangars. The FAA provided $823,855 in grant funding to help with the purchase.
Rhoades said that, in a way, the airport has been forced upon the board.
“The state mandated that each county was to have an airport,” he said. “Or to be a co-owner of an airport with another county. It’s one of those unfunded mandates handed down to us from the state.”