the Beacon Journal editorial board
Dan Horrigan made the right call on Akron Fulton International Airport. Following the deadly crash of a business jet approaching the airport and in view of the cityís tight budget, the mayor-elect called for an in-depth look at safety and viability. Fortunately, the means do so already is at hand. Horrigan has put together a task force to make a comprehensive review of the cityís finances and operations.
Meanwhile, a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board indicated pilots of the jet were warmed of poor visibility. The airport does sit in a bowl, and pilots must make their final approach on their own after communicating with Akron-Canton Airport. Akron Fulton lost its control tower in the 1980s.
Yet the lack of a working tower is hardly unique. Most airports do not have one. More, those who regularly use the airport say landing at Akron Fulton poses no special challenges. Until the recent crash, the most serious on record was in 1942.
Unless the final NTSB report uncovers a so-far hidden problem, the system for handling aircraft coming into and leaving Akron Fulton that has been in place for decades appears to be both common and safe, with Akron-Canton and other area airports providing an alternative if necessary.
The city does provide an operating subsidy from its general fund of between $100,000 and $200,000 a year, and data provided by the city show that airport profits are not enough to cover the subsidy. Last year, net income was about $87,000 short of the subsidy of $195,000.
What must be balanced carefully by the mayor-electís task force is the value the airport brings, especially in terms of convenience to business travelers, and what other possible uses there could be for the airport land.
In 2014, the Ohio Department of Transportation estimated the economic value of the airport at $11.9 million a year. And while developer Stu Lichter, a major investor in industrial property adjacent to the airport, does not consider it as a primary driver of economic development, he does see Akron Fulton as a convenience for business travelers.
Offering that convenience is something that has long been supported by Akron mayors and City Council members as corporate jets have grown increasingly popular. The airport now supports about 70 aircraft a day, and the fixed-base operator hired by the city to run the airport eventually would like to add more space.
In the 1980s, city officials and others eyed the airport land for possible industrial development. Even then, the likelihood of attracting a large-scale manufacturing complex was considered unlikely. And a Federal Aviation Administration requirement that the city must repay the agency for financial assistance if the property is sold remains a major impediment. That price tag now is estimated by the city at $7.5 million.
Without a major redevelopment offer, getting the city out of the airport business would be an expensive proposition. By continuing to provide a modest subsidy, the city offers a competitive advantage in attracting and keeping new businesses, a vital function as Akron continues a long economic transition.