REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Airport priorities

There's some agreement, at least, among Ottawa County leaders on the potential of an airstrip at NASA Plum Brook in Erie County.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

There's some agreement, at least, among Ottawa County leaders on the potential of an airstrip at NASA Plum Brook in Erie County.

Commissioners toured the NASA research station, saw what's going on "behind the fence" and thought anew of the potential benefits of linking NASA's work to the high-tech industry seeking a foothold in Ottawa County -- from the businesses in the Lake Erie Business Park to the expansion at Brush-Wellman's long-standing beryllium processing plant in Elmore.

And they saw the need for Plum Brook to have an airstrip to bring in large pieces of space hardware for testing at Plum Brook's space-environment facilities, still unmatched anywhere in the world.

But they are naturally concerned the NASA airstrip would help kill Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport, just outside Port Clinton, which has been trying to sell itself as a business-jet facility. Better, Ottawa County argues, that the NASA airstrip would be for NASA's use only.

But it makes no monetary sense to build an airstrip capable of taking the big transports needed to bring in the space hardware Plum Brook will be called upon to test -- and to use it for that purpose only. Nor does it make sense to fly those pieces of hardware into Cleveland or Mansfield and truck them here, especially if the new moonship gets going and more tests are required than Plum Brook now performs.

So building a NASA airstrip big enough for Plum Brook's needs, but usable by other aircraft when the big transports aren't flying, makes the most sense.

Where does that leave Erie-Ottawa? In a good position, if it plays its cards right. Erie-Ottawa might want to reconsider its ambition of being a small-jet port and concentrate on its traditional role as a jumping-off point for the islands, especially if the general-aviation industry holds on to its present recovery attempt. Erie-Ottawa is limited in how it can grow, hemmed in on three sides by roads and on the west by the post-9/11 no-fly zone around Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, requiring the bigger business jets to make a sharp turn after takeoff to the west. But it's still favored as an air link to the American islands, as witnessed by Griffing Flying Service's relocation of its Bass Islands flights from Sandusky to Erie-0ttawa.