If you think there’s been more activity lately around Don Scott Field, or Ohio State University Airport, you’re right.
The general-aviation airport’s numbers have been rising for several years.
They got a boost just last weekend thanks to a highly anticipated Buckeye football game against the University of Oklahoma.
Airport officials estimate that traffic — 2,200 takeoffs and landings — during the four-day period before and after the Sept. 9 game was the second-highest for the airport, behind only the 2006 contest between No. 1-ranked OSU and No. 2-ranked Michigan in the ‘Shoe.
“It was an extremely busy weekend for us, starting midday Friday and going through midday Sunday,” said Doug Hammon, director of the airport.
Hammon cited the game — a matchup between two Top 10-ranked teams with passionate fan bases — and the distance between the schools: too far for a comfortable drive and not connected by nonstop commercial flights.
“This was a very pleasant, nice crowd” of Oklahoma fans, said Mike Eppley, who manages the service operation at the airport on the Northwest Side. “We took care of them. We made them happy, and we sent them away very happy,” he said dryly, referring to Ohio State’s loss to the Sooners.
The OSU-Army game Saturday isn’t expected to be nearly as busy for the airport, although the airport expects that some visitors — including military officers — will be flying in for the game.
The busy weekend isn’t an anomaly for Don Scott Field.
Measured by takeoffs and landings, it’s the third busiest airport in the state behind John Glenn Columbus and Cleveland Hopkins international airports. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport isn’t included in those figures as it’s not in Ohio.
But the steadily growing number of flights at Don Scott over the past few years reflects a couple of larger trends.
A good portion of the increased activity is linked to the university’s flight school. Enrollment has steadily increased with the news in recent years that airlines desperately need pilots. And the regional airlines, where most pilots begin their careers, have increased pay somewhat and often offer signing bonuses.
“They know they’re going to get a job offer at a regional (airline) if they complete their training and get their hours here,” said Brandon Mann, director of flight education at the airport. “It’s hard to even keep instructors now, there are so many pilot jobs to be had.”
The higher numbers also reflect overall growth in private aviation. The segment is finally getting close to a recovery from the financial crisis and its lingering effects.
“The last three or four years, we’ve seen nice month-over-month, year-over-year growth,” said Scott Liston, executive vice president of Cincinnati-based Argus International, an aviation services and data company focused on business aviation.
According to Argus, Ohio ranked 10th among U.S. states in the number of departures of business aviation aircraft in 2016. The top three states were Texas, California and Florida, all with more than 240,000 departures. After that, the numbers drop off significantly. Ohio had more than 69,000 departures.
Nationally, the latest data from Argus shows that overall private aviation activity was up 5.2 percent for August compared with August 2016. Last month was the busiest month since May 2008. That comes on top of a 3 percent increase in private flight activity in August 2016 compared with August 2015.
Virtually all aircraft types and operational categories of business aviation are seeing growth. Activity for fractional aircraft, a segment dominated by Columbus-based NetJets, is up 7 percent in the past year. NetJets accounts for nearly two-thirds of fractional market flight activity.
At its annual meeting this year, NetJets owner Berkshire Hathaway said NetJets revenue for the first quarter was up 19 percent over the previous year. NetJets spokeswoman Kristyn Wilson said the company’s total number of flights last year was still down about 15 percent from 2007, but said the company is now “more profitable (and) stable” than it was 10 years ago.
For Don Scott, more flight activity is “good for everybody,” Hammon said.
In addition to bringing in revenue that can help make the airport more self-supporting, added flights often mean added local spending on things such as food and accommodations.
Hammon said many coming to Columbus for a football game come in early to play golf, go shopping at Easton Town Center or visit attractions such as the North Market.