A proposal to shift island flights from Sandusky to Port Clinton could create benefits and problems for two area airports.
During an Erie County Commissioners meeting last week, officials discussed a plan to change island flights during the winter from Sandusky-based Griffing Flying Service to Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport near Port Clinton.
The flight change would run from Nov. 1 through March 1 and affect Kelleys, Rattlesnake, South, Middle and North Bass islands.
Pilots can typically make two flights in one hour from Sandusky; however, they can make three trips in one hour from Port Clinton, said Tom Griffing, president of Griffing Flying Service.
With fuel prices reaching $5.50, airport officials want to save money -- but that's not the only reason for the shift, Griffing said.
"It's primarily to improve service," Griffing said. "We will become more efficient and take better care of the customers.
"There is no downside to it. Better for the customer, better for us, better for the environment," Griffing said.
Yet, for the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport it could create parking problems, airport director Jack Stables said.
When ice forms on Lake Erie, commercial ferries shut down and airplanes become the primary mode of travel for many islanders.
Islanders typically leave their vehicles parked at the airports during the winter. Ice fishing season brings even more vehicles into the parking lot, Stables said.
"I anticipate we'll have a parking issue," Stables said. "I'm just preparing you for what might pop up. I can deal with it, but there may be costs involved."
The Port Clinton airport has a maximum capacity of 200 cars. The flight change could mean an additional 50-100 more cars than usual, Stables said.
An additional parking lot would cost about $38,000, Erie County commissioner Tom Ferrell said.
"If it means that it helps out Tom (Griffing), we'd be willing to explore it," Ferrell said.
The additional parking lot costs would be split evenly between Erie and Ottawa counties, which own equal shares of the Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport.
Ottawa County Commissioner Carl Koebel said the county already bought additional land west of the airport's driveway to accommodate a parking lot.
"It's just a matter of getting the money together to do it," Koebel said.
"There's several questions that have to be answered, but it's something we're looking at in the near future."
Ferrell said he expects to meet with the Ottawa County Commissioners within the next month to discuss the issue.
The news is not all bad for Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport.
With the flight change, the airport could collect passenger fees from an influx of about 3,000 people, Stables said. The passenger fee is about $1 per person, which means it could generate an additional $3,000.
The airport typically collects about $6,000 in passenger fees during a good year, Stables said.
"We'll have to look at it and see if it's something that would generate additional revenue," Ottawa County commissioner Jim Sass said.
"But there's no promises being made."