May 26, 2004 — The FAA has played its grant obligation trump card, following AOPA's lead to protect an Ohio airport. After AOPA asked the FAA to look into the situation at Kent State UniversityAirport, the FAA's airports district office for the region wrote a letter to Kent State University President Carol Cartwright, saying that because of the grant obligations, the airport cannot be decommissioned without FAA consent. AOPA has also written to Cartwright, suggesting ways to meet the school's needs without closing the airport.
"Year after year, AOPA members tell us nothing matters more to them than ensuring they have places to land by protecting airports," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The FAA's recent emphasis on enforcing grant obligations is a powerful tool for doing just that."
In her letter, Irene Porter, the manager of the FAA's Detroit Airports District Office, called Kent State University Airport an important part of an integrated national air transport system and said the FAA would be unlikely to approve its closure.
Kent State University Airport is heavily obligated to the FAA, having accepted numerous Airport Improvement Program grants, which come with strings attached such as keeping the airport open to all pilots for 20 years. The school's board of trustees is considering a new airport master plan and is said to favor the alternative that calls for decommissioning the facility and moving the school's flight program to another facility, possibly Portage County Airport.
"Applications to release a sponsor from their obligations and allow for the closure of an airport are rarely considered by the FAA," wrote Porter. "KSU Airport has a 4,000-foot runway and handles more than 70,000 takeoffs and landings a year. The vital role this airport plays in the national transportation system, reflected by the investments made by the federal government and the sponsor's willingness to invest and develop the facility in recent years, is inconsistent with a request for closure."
Porter said the FAA wants to meet with KSU President Cartwright to discuss the issues raised by the school.
"The reasons given publicly by the school for wanting to close the airport can be addressed without shutting down the airport," said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn. "Kent State is a valuable asset in the national air transportation system, and AOPA will work closely with both KSU and the FAA to ensure it remains open."