A cloud of closure has been lifted from an Ohio airport after supporters made the case to local officials that the airport contributes value to the local economy.
The future of Willoughby Lost Nation Municipal Airport in Willoughby, Ohio, was secured by a transfer of ownership from municipal control to Lake County and a regional economic development authority. FAA approval sealed the deal, ending “eight years of discussions,” reported a local newspaper on Oct. 10.
It was a long campaign to save the airport in which pilots often had to struggle to be heard, said Gary Swanson, a local businessman, pilot, and AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer at the airport. But when supporters outside the aviation community, including business leaders, stepped up to confirm that the airport gives them a competitive edge, it opened the door to discussions that led to a solution.
“I think that’s what swung it,” he said in a telephone interview. “At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue that it’s not an economic engine.”
Now, the airport’s fixed-base operation, newly certain of its future, is moving forward with plans to expand its facilities, he said. T-hangars and an on-field restaurant were on the drawing board.
And, “The weather station has already been ordered.”
The threat of closure loomed large for more than 10 years while the municipality of Willoughby studied possible ways to shed its ownership of the airport.
AOPA supported local airport advocates with on-site meetings and other contacts, and helped fend off closure threats by pointing out that a significant quantity of airport property was acquired with federal airport improvement funding. A requirement of such funding was to maintain the airport, located northeast of Cleveland along Lake Erie, in aviation service.
It was at the time that pressure to close the airport was growing when AOPA suggested examining a possible ownership transfer of the facility, said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy, who made several trips to Willoughby.
“This has been a long battle,” Dunn said. ”And it shows what can happen when local pilots set their mind to it.” There are approximately 67 aircraft based at the airport, which sees about 44,000 operations a year.
Swanson, whose firm manufactures motion-control products, flies rented aircraft, especially V-tail Beech Bonanzas, for business travel. He said information AOPA provided on how other threatened airports’ advocates were dealing with the issue was especially helpful to his airport’s support group.
The efforts by supporters of the Lost Nation airport to educate community leaders on the airport’s economic value were noted by officials, who expressed relief that a long local debate on the airport’s future was finally over. The newspaper report on the ownership transfer agreement included remarks by Harry Allen, a director of the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority, who said the solution was “great for the county and business community,” and “a bright day for the county.”
“The moral of the story is that you can fight city hall and have a positive effect, if you stick with it,” said Dunn.
How valuable is general aviation to a business fortunate enough to have a GA airport close by?
Gary Swanson tells the story of the day he was on his way to Ohio’s Willoughby Lost Nation Municipal Airport for a business flight to Chicago in a GA aircraft.
The office called to tell him that a client in Elkhart, Indiana, needed his attention ASAP.
It’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Willoughby to Elkhart. Quickly his team reshuffled their travel plans.
Swanson, whose company manufactures actuators and motion-control products, had his colleagues drop him off in Elkhart so he could attend to his customer. The others continued on to Chicago.
“Two hours after he called, I was at his plant,” he said.