Aviation study

Regional airport studied
for north central Ky.

Kentucky Speedway, Belterra Casino have
heightened need, local officials say

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. (August 2003) – A feasibility study to determine what need, if any, exists for a regional airport in northern Kentucky will soon be under way. HMB Professional Engineers will conduct the study, paid for by a Federal Aviation Association grant of $350,000. The firm will begin the study process, which will include an inventory of Carroll, Gallatin and Owen counties and a survey of registered aircraft owners in the area, once the FAA releases the funds.

Harold Tomlinson

Carroll County Judge Executive Harold Tomlinson

"Everything’s in line; we’re just waiting on the money,” said Owen County Judge-Executive Billy O’Banion, one of three county judges involved with the project.
This isn’t the first time that a regional airport has been considered in the northern Kentucky area, according to Mark Paslick, HMB’s vice president in charge of business development. The area has been looked at in the past, but one of the difficulties faced by proponents of the idea was finding an area that did not interfere with Cincinnati airspace, Paslick noted.
That was several years ago, however, and since that time the area has witnessed the kind of growth that now makes reconsidering a regional airport important. “We’ve seen a considerable amount of growth in this area,” said Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold Tomlinson. “The Kentucky Speedway has certainly sparked some interest, and we’re really not that far from Belterra (Casino),” he said.
The Kentucky Speedway, located in Gallatin County, has definitely been one of the catalysts for the study. Speedway officials were actually the first in the area to propose the idea of a regional airport to HMB, according to Paslick.
“We were asked to come up and answer questions about the potential for an airport,” Paslick said. He noted that just about every race track with a NASCAR Winston Cup event has an airport nearby, definitely a consideration of speedway officials who have been working to secure such an event at the Sparta track. “The racetrack would guarantee the airport a successful venture simply because of the use that they would have with race car drivers,” said Judge-Executive George Zubaty of Gallatin County.
The Kentucky Speedway may have a vested interest in supporting a regional airport, but according to Paslick, airports have to be sponsored by a public entity, voiding any possibility of sponsorship by the speedway. Because of this, HMB approached the three county judges who showed interest in the project.
“HMB came to the judges and proposed the idea, knowing down the road it would be a bid-type process,” said O’Banion.
Before approaching the judges, Paslick said HMB consulted the FAA to see if there was any interest in the project and what funding might be available. After finding that there was interest, Paslick took the idea to O’Banion, Tomlinson and Zubaty. “HMB wrote the grant and applied for funding,” O’Banion said.
One reason for the FAA’s interest is the lack of air service that exists in the northern Kentucky area. “If you look at the (FAA’s) national plan, northern Kentucky is (currently) one of the lowest serviced areas,” Paslick said. That fact made securing an FAA grant for the study less difficult, he said.
Once the grant was secured, HMB was chosen for the study because of its history with such projects. “Our company can and has taken airports through planning, design and construction,” said Paslick.
Most recently, the company worked on an airport in Williamsburg, Ky., that is currently under construction.
“We’re also extremely experienced in site selection,” Paslick said of the next phase in the process should an airport be deemed feasible by their study. That, however, could take a while. “Right now, we’re just taking baby steps,” he said.
Before any airport sites can be considered, HMB must determine through the study if there is a need. “What were trying to gauge is how many aircraft owners out there would be interested in basing a craft at this airport if it were in existence today,” Paslick said.
One way to determine that is to canvass all airplane owners in Carroll, Gallatin, Owen counties and a number of surrounding counties. The company will also conduct personal interviews with larger industries in the area and inventory growth that has taken place over the past several years.
One industry that could benefit from a regional airport is Argent Metal Technologies, a New Zealand-based aluminum wheel manufacturing company that recently purchased the former American Racing building. It will provide about 288 new jobs in Gallatin County once it is in full swing, according to Zubaty. Zubaty said he has spoken with several of the company officials and that many have expressed the value of their time, including that spent in international travel. Having an airport conveniently located near their plant would save company officials who travel frequently valuable time, Zubaty said.
Even if HMB determines that there is a need for a regional airport, securing funds for the project would likely be a long process. The initial grant of $350,000 will only pay for the study, which should take up to three months to complete, according to Paslick.
Tomlinson said he has been asked why those funds could not be used for other improvements, such as roads and schools. “One thing that I think is important to note is that the $350,000 is federal dollars designated for aviation only. It can’t be used for anything else,” Tomlinson said.

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