- Denise Callahan Staff Writer
The ailing Butler County regional airport is about to get a financial boost with a $1.8 million federal grant for capital improvements and possibly a business boost with a new drone school.
The county commissioners on Monday accepted a grant, which will finance revamping a large concrete area that is laden with cracks and wisps of grass peeking through. The FAA grant will allow the county to finish reconstructing the ramp that runs along the airport terminal. The state is picking up another five percent, and the county will be on the hook for $103,000.
Commissioner T.C. Rogers, the commissioners’ liaison to the airport, said they are also negotiating with Butler Tech to locate a drone school at the airport. He said the technical schools can’t fly drones at their locations, so Hogan Field is a solution.
“The idea is to get partnerships with the colleges which have drone courses, but they cannot operate drones because of their locations,” he said. “It’s very positive, plus you’re subjecting a younger clientele to having an interest in aviation.”
Development Director David Fehr, who is also in charge of the airport, said a deal for the school isn’t done yet, but the plan is to let the school use former airport manager Ron Davis’ office and a meeting room inside the terminal, and it will lease space away from the runways for flying the drones.
The airport has been a drain on the county general fund for years, and earlier this summer the commissioners fired Davis, who ran Hogan Field for nearly 18 years. At that time, the commissioners said they would likely hire a consultant to run the airport, which would be cheaper than Davis’ $110,310 salary and benefits.
General fund monies have bailed the airport out in sums of of $40,000 to $50,000 annually, up to as much as $100,000. That doesn’t include the $155,000 in annual debt payments.
County Administrator Charlie Young said the county has not yet settled on how it will handle things at the airport for the future — Fehr’s department and fixed-base operator Cincinnati Jet have been on scene — but it does need someone to handle things like grant applications.
“We’ve looked at a couple alternatives, and we’re still exploring,” he said. “We’re not going to replace Ron in the sense of a full-time person at that rate of pay at that job description.”
One option on the table is a part-time contract person, who would not receive benefits. Davis’ benefits cost the county almost $17,000.
Fehr said the capital improvement project will not start until next spring, because it wasn’t likely to be finished this year and he didn’t want that section of the airport to be “torn up” during the winter. Commissioner Don Dixon said the project should further plans to make the airport more competitive and self-sufficient.
“It’s a big improvement, it also reinforces it so it can take bigger planes,” Dixon said.
Ian Roberts, co-owner of Cincinnati Jet Center, said the county was very good about not disrupting operations at the airport when ramp reconstruction — it was a phased project — started a few years ago, and the new project shouldn’t hamper airport business either.
“Obviously when they closed the runway, that’s not great,” he said. “But in the long run it’s better because it’s for an improvement purpose. But with ramp expansion, these phased programs, in each instance they made proper provisions, and we did not have any traffic count decline because of it.”