Butler County’s three regional airports are each trying to carve out a niche in a competitive marketplace, while also working together to boost the region’s reputation as a major aerospace corridor.
Preliminary talks have begun between officials with the Butler County Regional Airport, Middletown’s Hook Field and Miami University’s airport to find collaborative ways to meet the county’s aviation needs. And while the airports remain competitors, each is starting to carve out a niche in the market by accentuating their differences.
For example, Middletown’s airport, with one of the largest “uncontrolled” runways in an eight-state area, plans to get into the “industrial aviation business,” officials said. Matt Eisenbraun, the city’s economic program manager, said the airport will soon be going after companies who want to park jumbo jets there for months of repairs.
“We’re kind of looking at what we can do that others can’t, to find a little opening in the market,” Eisenbraun said. “We can bring big planes in. We can’t do it 15 times a day, we can’t do scheduled service for a lot of reasons, but we can bring in great big planes that no one else can, and they can sit for three months.
“Now if I can find a company that wants to take a big plane and turn it into a cargo plane from passenger service, that’s 90 days of work for 100 people,” he said. “We’re looking for what I call ‘industrial aviation.’”
Skydiving, balloon festivals, hang gliding and other tourist type operations also call Hook Field home. Eisenbraun said Middletown’s airport has already cornered the market on the aviation tourist trade in the area, so they will continue to develop that niche.
“Tourism is very important for us. That isn’t necessarily something that every airport is going to go for because of the potential for issues between skydivers in our case, and pilots,” he said. “So recreational things aren’t typically sought after for an airport, because pilots don’t like skydivers, they don’t like gliders, they don’t like all of that kind of thing going on.”
Randy Quisenberry, the county’s asset manager, said the Butler County Regional Airport’s forte is commercial and corporate aviation. Dozens of corporate users fly in and out of Hogan Field, and it is home for several corporate jets, including West Chester Twp.-based AK Steel. The airport also houses the University of Cincinnati’s medical helicopter, several aviation repair companies and flight schools. And there’s room for expansion, officials said.
“With the explosion of growth out on the I-75 corridor between Cincinnati and Dayton, and the proximity of the Butler County Regional Airport to I-75 and all that growth, we just feel that the demand for a high caliber commercial airport operation is going to be in high demand,” Quisenberry said.
Meanwhile, Miami University has its own airport about a mile from the Oxford campus. Bill Moloney, senior director for auxiliary businesses, said their main activity is campus-focused, for students, sports teams, alumni and other university-type business. But they are still a general aviation airport, he said.
“We are providing a niche for this part of the county,” he said. “Because it’s not serviced very well, and we kind of are rural.”
County Administrator Charlie Young said he sees the three airports eventually being complementary as opposed to competitors. He said the conversations they have already had with the other airports have helped start a road map for where the county airport might want to go.
“It’s been a neat process, like most people you assume everyone looks at something the way you do,” Young said. “It’s been very educational and enlightening to hear different perspectives, not only on how things currently exist, but on what’s possible and what’s desired. So it has been a very good process on opening the dialogue on aviation.”
West Chester Twp. officials expressed the most interest in helping the county financially. Trustee Board President George Lang said they are still open to a possible partnership, but they need to see a firm business plan that identifies how their township will benefit before he’d agree to open the pocketbook.
“I just want it to serve the corporations in West Chester, which I think it does a pretty good job of that already,” he said. “My whole thing is what can we do to make businesses in our community more profitable? How can we make it easier for them to operate and better and more efficiently? Anything they can do to help our businesses, that’s the only thing I want to see from that airport.”
Eisenbraun and Middletown’s Economic Development Director Denise Hamet have been communicating with Miami University’s marketing department to see if they can possibly get some interns working on a marketing plan for the whole region and for Middletown’s preferred market, industrial aviation. Eisenbraun said they plan to identify prospects and target them directly.
“We don’t want a shotgun, we want rifle shot,” Eisenbraun said. “Let’s go after exactly what we need to get to the next stage.”