Landing more businesses could really help the Lorain County Regional Airport take off despite its small size, supporters say.
The airport has an approximately 150-acre industrial park in New Russia Township. It includes utilities, potable water, and sanitary sewer services.
“It’s a heck of a convenience for a lot of types of businesses for an airplane to pull right up in front of their business,” said Larry Misenko, a pilot with Zone Aviation, which operates out of the airport at 44050 Russia Rd.
One of 467 regional airports nationally, the Lorain County site averages between 15,000 to 20,000 takeoffs and landings annually but its 5,000-foot runway limits the planes that can land there.
It cannot accommodate fully-loaded 737 and 747 jets that fly to and from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, which has a 9,000-foot runway. Those larger planes can weigh 800,000 to one million pounds.
The county airport is defined as a “general aviation-reliever” airport by the Federal Aviation Administration. It doesn’t have regularly scheduled commercial flights but relieves congestion from Cleveland Hopkins. Its primary operations are charter flights, flight training, and recreational flights.
The local airport’s annual budget is nearly $514,000, according to Lisa Hobart, county budget director.
The county taxpayers’ share is just $50,000 — but Jim Cordes, county administrator, thinks it’s a waste. “It’s one of those albatrosses that continues to choke you,” he said at a July 12 county commissioners meeting that included discussion on how to deal with shrinking revenue.
Cordes said because the county has accepted taxpayer money from the Federal Aviation Administration for maintenance — including $953,000 in mostly federal and state dollars in March for taxiway improvements — it is obligated to keep the airport open at least 20 years from the acceptance date. But Cordes is skeptical about the airport ever being profitable. “The biggest revenue source is growing corn at the airport,” he said.
Zone Aviation owner Bob Snezek concedes the airport’s size limits its profitability but said the annual local cost is a bargain for the roughly 305,000 county residents. Snezek estimated county taxpayers pay less than a $1 each annually for the airport. He said expanding the airport’s runway could increase profitability.
“To get rid of it is just asinine to think about,” Snezek said. “It’s a very cheap investment.”
Zone Aviation, which opened in 2007, is the airport’s biggest company. It has nine planes and averages between 40 to 60 flights per week, which include flight training and flying aspiring pilots to and from business appointments. Snezek said his company pays about $48,000 in fees to the airport, which is run by MRK Aviation and rents space for about 175 planes.
Snezek said his company is profitable despite the impact of the Great Recession and high airplane fuel costs. Obtaining a pilot’s license costs $5,000 to $9,000, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, but airline pilot salaries are low. Regional airlines pay new pilots an average of just $24,000 annually, according to a 2014 analysis by Airline Pilots Association International.
“There is no shortage of qualified pilots,” the association said. “There is, however, a shortage of qualified pilots willing to fly for substandard wages and inadequate benefits.”
Despite the high licensing costs and low salaries, airport officials try to encourage young people to fly. The airport holds an annual air show in June and families are encouraged to visit the airport to watch planes take off and land.
Zone Aviation’s recreational flight costs are based on fuel costs and flight time. A 20-minute flight costs about $100.
On Friday, Misenko took a 14-year-old boy on his first flight and allowed him to to take the controls of a four-seat Piper Warrior. The plane has a 160-horse power engine and flies up to 120 mph. It flew at about 2,500 feet around the county Friday.
Misenko, a pilot since 2004, said he became hooked on flying as a nine-year-old when his father took him on trips. “It beats working for a living,” he said before landing.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.
Provided by Zone Aviation Reporter Evan Goodenow was taken on a ride in a Piper Warrior plane over Lorain County.