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FAA grants $410,000 to Defiance airport

DEFIANCE - An ambitious plan to attract more business to Defiance County has moved a step closer, officials said yesterday.

The county has been promised federal money to begin upgrading the Defiance County Airport, leading to lengthening the runway to accommodate larger airplanes.

“That's good news,” said Marla Pancake, owner of a thriving airport-based business. “We are the front door to Defiance, and we want to put out a better welcome mat to the county.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has awarded the county a $410,000 grant over three years to begin the process of expanding the airport. The money will fund preparations for eventually extending the 4,600-foot runway to 5,400 feet, County Commissioner Otto Nicely said.

Commissioners and business leaders in the county have long wanted to enlarge the airport's capacity, said Mr. Nicely, president of the board of commissioners.

The runway work and other improvements will cost an estimated $2 million, adding that federal and state grants should pay for all but about $100,000, which will be the county's share.

The initial first year's $110,000 from the FAA will go toward environmental studies and buying easements to allow for tree trimming at the runway's end, Mr. Nicely said.

The county owns enough land to expand the airport, which is south of the city of Defiance on State Rt. 15. Easements on nearby agricultural land will allow for periodic, and required, trimming “to keep the treetops out of the flight path,” Mr. Nicely said.

A longer runway will provide more safety margin on takeoffs. “And we need it for the business we expect,” he said.

“We have people who fly in jet planes that have to land in Toledo before the people drive out here,” Mr. Nicely said. “We want them to be able to land here. We would like to have 12 to 23-passenger planes land here.”

Their business will welcome any improvement, said Mrs. Pancake, one of the owners of TAS Aviation. She and her husband, Les, her brother and wife Tony and Rebecca Saxton, and their mother, Marjory Saxton, own the family aircraft service business.

TAS is known as the country's foremost maintenance center for twin-engine Cessnas, a popular private aircraft. Mr. Saxton was named 1993 National Maintenance Technician of the Year.

“We have planes here for repair from California, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Detroit,” Mrs. Pancake said.

The maintenance business employs 25 people in three buildings at the one-runway airport.

“The way Defiance and northwest Ohio is growing, many more people come in to airports like this one now and some have planes for which our runway is not adequate,'' Mrs. Pancake said. ``A few hundred feet would make it safer and more comfortable.”

The county will conduct environmental studies and other preparations, then petition for construction funding, Mr. Nicely said.

The airport is governed by the commissioners and Defiance County Airport Authority. Its chairman, John Ferland, was not available for comment.

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