Terminal Forecast for Ohio State’s Airport: Unknown, But Noise an Issue

Oct. 6, 2011

A lead article in the Columbus Dispatch newspaper earlier this month broke the news that the future of Ohio State University airport (OSU) is again in question. University officials tried in the mid-1980s to sell the popular GA airport to developers, but were stopped by the FAA. Review the article.

University spokeswoman Shelly Hoffman confirmed that discussions on the airport’s future had started, but said that speculation on changes in ownership or operation of the airport was premature.

Hoffman was mum on options being discussed, but some of the possibilities likely include actions to provide the cash-strapped University with operating funds. Among the possibilities: sale of fixed base operator rights, sale of hangar properties, redevelopment of some of the rapidly-appreciating airport land, or even an outright sale of the airport itself, which could, if carefully structured, circumvent the FAA rule that blocked the previous sale.

Like most public universities, OSU has suffered funding cuts as the state legislature struggles with failing tax revenues. Funding for higher education was cut more than 11 percent in the current year’s budget, and the 2013 budget promises only slight relief. Looking for money, University officials have just completed sale of the school’s automobile parking operations in a deal worth more than $375 million, and sources say it’s not surprising they may be eyeing changes at the airport as a funding source.

A 2004 economic impact study by long-time aviation consultant Wilbur Smith Associates showed OSU  airport contributing an estimated $103 million to the Columbus area in both direct and indirect economic benefits, and the value of the airport land has blossomed to an estimated $150 million in the last several decades as upscale suburbs and businesses grew around the field.

But aside from financial concerns, increasing friction with OSU airport neighbors over the noise generated by the airport is almost certainly playing a role in the considerations of University Trustees. The airport has been home for OSU’s highly regarded aviation training program since 1945, but as business jets and turboprops replaced piston-engine aircraft over the years, surrounding communities have not been pleased.

“The airport has become this thing that it was not meant to be,” said Jane Weislogel, founder of the community group We Oppose Ohio State Airport Expansion (WOOSE) www.woose.org. “It was meant for student training.” WOOSE was founded eight years ago in the upscale suburb of Worthington, northeast of the airport. Weislogel said that departures from runway 09R are often given an initial heading of 050, which tracks directly over the center of Worthington.

“We don’t want the airport to close,” said Weislogel, herself a pilot. “We’re just questioning the need for lengthening runway 09L/27R to 6,000 feet and construction of more corporate hangars, which would attract even more jets and turboprops. Our goal is to find solutions to the current noise problems and find a way for the airport to serve its academic mission in a manner compatible with the surrounding communities.”

An FAA Part 150 noise study was commissioned by the airport in 2007, and results showed indicated noise levels outside the airport property were within the range of normal conversation, when averaged over 24 hours. At that level, the FAA will not require or fund noise-reduction programs. But WOOSE members say it isn’t the airport noise averaged over 24 hours that is bothersome; it’s the single-event noise exposures, such as an aircraft taking off flying directly over homes. One resident reported a late-night flight measured 94 decibels in her front yard, equivalent to a blender operating three feet away.

Airport Director Doug Hammon has instituted noise abatement guidelines, which include the NBAA Noise Abatement Program and ask pilots to “fly neighborly.” Jet training is prohibited, as are low practice approaches and touch and go landings at night. In an earlier Columbus Dispatch article, he said that he doesn’t believe the airport poses a noise problem, a position supported by other airport advocates, including Alan Harding, president of the Ohio Aviation Association.

Meanwhile, Ohio State University Trustees are sorting out the multitude of issues surrounding the venerable and business-friendly Ohio State University airport. A decision from the University may be forthcoming within six months. Or it may not.