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Middletown airport plans stalled until new skydiving drop zone is settled

Middletown City Council Tuesday will consider a large supplemental appropriation for the Middletown Regional Airport. The city is in the process of taking over the Fixed-Based Operator responsibilities at the end of the year. FILE PHOTO An airplane takes off from Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field Wednesday, May 25 in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Middletown City Council Tuesday will consider a large supplemental appropriation for the Middletown Regional Airport. The city is in the process of taking over the Fixed-Based Operator responsibilities at the end of the year. FILE PHOTO An airplane takes off from Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field Wednesday, May 25 in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The future of the Middletown Regional Airport and completion of its master plan is in a holding pattern until the city and Start Skydiving/Start Aviation reach an agreement about where to relocate a skydiving drop zone away from the runway and taxiways.

Matt Eisenbraun, acting city economic development director, told Middletown City Council during its Feb. 1 retreat that there are some “exciting things” happening at the city-owned and operated airport.

Multiple improvements have happened in the past five years through federal and state matching grants. The airport has a 6,100-foot heavy duty runway, one of the longest of its kind in Ohio. The city has received $429,000 in Federal Aviation Administration funding and state grants to complete an airport master plan.

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During the council retreat, Eisenbraun recommended a campus concept that would have areas for recreation, entertainment and skydiving; general and private aviation; education and drones and aircraft maintenance, repairs and overhauling.

“Council has said it wants the airport to be an economic development asset,” he said. “The city is moving in the direction you indicated.”

Eisenbraun said the FAA have already approved drafts of the city’s new airport master plan but wants to know where the skydiving operations will be. The area includes more than a dozen water wells on the property, adjacent Smith Park and the city water plant, public works and electronics divisions.

“We still have to decide where to put the drop zone at,” he said.

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Officials from both the city and Start Skydiving/Start Aviation have been in discussions about the drop zone location for more 18 months. On Jan. 1, the city resumed operations to provide fuel and other services at the airport after Start Aviation’s contract expired on Dec. 31, 2019.

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After public input has been received and hearings conducted about the new drop zone location, the plan would then be forwarded to the FAA’s regional office in Detroit for review that could take a year or more.

Land adjacent to the Magellan Aerospace Middletown facility could be used to build an Education Hangar close to the runway with a $750,000 State Capital Improvement Project grant.

Eisenbraun said the last major improvement will be repaving the 6,100-foot runway, which is expected to happen in four to five years.

Officials are also proposing to expand the airport boundaries by including the land used for soccer and lacrosse teams for the drop zone and add more hangars in that area near the runway, Eisenbraun said.

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While there is nothing happening on any plans in the southwest end of the park, Eisenbraun said the area could still be used by Light Up Middletown, the Ohio Challenge, other events and sports activities as well as an entertainment facility. He said the advantages of using the Smith Park area could take advantage of existing infrastructure and utilities.

“There is plenty of room if we can work together which will provide a better opportunity for grants,” Eisenbraun said. “There is a need for more hangars. You have the opportunity to set the airport’s agenda for the next 50 years and develop it as a destination just a quarter-mile from downtown. The city needs to take advantage of a well-built airport.”

Acting City Manager Susan Cohen told council, “we have to tell Woolpert what our plan is going to be at the airport. We want this to be successful for everyone.”

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Councilwoman Monica Nenni asked city officials to get feedback from the pilots and others that use the airport, while Councilwoman Ami Vitori asked to see various scenarios as well as get input from skydivers and others.

Councilman Talbott Moon raised concerns about taking away park land without something in hand.

In addition, council also wanted cost comparisons to do each area suggested for drop zones as well as getting a response from Start Aviation.

John Hart II of Start Aviation/Start Skydiving could not be reached for comment on this story.

Eisenbraun said he hopes to have the information requested by council by the Feb. 18 council meeting.

Fast facts about Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field

The general aviation airport features the longest uncontrolled asphalt runway in Ohio at 6,100 feet. It is the longest runway in Butler and Warren counties and is one of the longest in southwest Ohio.

The airport’s main runway can accommodate jet aircraft as large as a Boeing 757.

There is also a 3,040 foot turf runway at the airport.

The airport also offers private, commercial and helicopter pilot training.

It is the home of Start Skydiving and Team Fastrax.

Approximately 110 aircraft are based at Middletown Regional Airport which logs more than 40,000 aircraft operations annually and sells 400,000 gallons of aviation fuel each year. The airport is in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The airport contains 13 city-owned buildings that consists of 66 T-Hangar units, two 50 foot by 50 foot aircraft hangar units, an 8,000 square-foot Terminal Building, a 24,000 square-foot maintenance hangar, and 39,000 square feet of corporate/community hangar space. The city also owns and operates a 40,000 gallon above ground aviation fuel storage facility.

The airport is in the process of installing a self-service low lead aviation fueling station for 2020.

SOURCE: City of Middletown