Work session guides future development, operations at Middletown airport

Middletown City Council met in a work session for three hours last week to discuss future development of the Middletown Regional Airport.

Council heard presentations on the airport’s history as well various infrastructure improvements. More than 30 people attended the Nov. 15 work session that heard from representatives from Start Skydiving and from an airport planner. The work session was to provide council with information to determine a policy to guide future development and operations at the airport. Council is expected to give its direction at an upcoming meeting.

City Manager Doug Adkins said the city is planning to budget about $2.4 million in federal, state and local funding in 2019 for more improvements at the airport.

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“We’re about to budget $2.4 million for the airport next year and were at the go/no-go point,” he said.

He said the city needs to decide where to locate an Education Hangar, which will be built with a State Capital Improvement Program grant. The new Airport Layout Plan is anticipated to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration in the third quarter of 2019, city officials said.

City officials want to move Start Skydiving operations to a new hangar on the north side of the airport and develop the southside of the airport for educational programs in avionics and drone maintenance with Cincinnati State and Butler Tech. Adkins said the city does not want to lose the skydiving operation, which brings an estimated 60,000 visitors to Middletown resulting in an estimated economic impact to the city of $10 million to $15 million a year.

In July, issues between Start Skydiving and city officials emerged over the city’s unmet obligations to Start Skydiving’s 20-year lease and with new airport manager Dan Dickten.

Since 2014 the city has received $3 million in federal, state and local funding for several infrastructure improvements at the airport, which has one of the longest uncontrolled runways in the state at 6,100 feet.

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Matt Eisenbraun, assistant economic development director, reviewed the nearly 100-year old history of the airport and presented “a rifle shot” approach that would develop a maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for jets and other aircraft of various sizes and recruit charter and shared aircraft owners to be based in Middletown. He also said there are additional ways for the airport to generate revenue such as landing and other operational fees, and fuel and building fees.

Nick Brown, a Middletown Airport Commission member, gave an overview of general and corporate aviation and stressed the importance of having a plan in place that is flexible in changing times.

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John Hart III, a co-owner of Start Skydiving, said that the company is the airport’s largest tenant, and does not want to leave the airport. He also said that skydiving operations and corporate/general airport operations can co-exist safely and that there needs to be more communication between the city administration and the airport tenants.

His father, John Hart II, said it was “a great plan but that the city has to fulfill its obligations” to his company. He said there would need to be an agreement first with the city.

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Hart II said he did not think the Education Hangar was a good idea.

“We’d gladly move there (to the north side of the airport), but please fulfill your obligations,” he said. “We’re not at war with this community.”

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