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Storm creates windfall for regional airport

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Airport Manager Mike Hodges closes a stall in the new hangar at the Wood County Regional Airport in Bowling Green. The hangars were built to replace hangars that were damaged by a storm a year ago. The airport is compiling a list of interested tenants in case there is enough demand to build a third hangar.

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BOWLING GREEN - If something good can come from a bad storm, the Wood County Regional Airport Authority figures it did.

One year ago today, strong winds flattened one of the airport's hangars and badly damaged a second one.

Most of the 18 privately owned planes inside the two structures were damaged or destroyed by collapsing buildings and flying debris.

One year and $750,000 later, the airport on East Poe Road is sporting two shiny, new steel hangars that are fully rented. The bill was covered by a $580,000 insurance settlement and a $168,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"If a storm can be positive, this one was," said Dick Martin, who was president of the airport authority at the time. "We ended up with some very nice facilities."

Ironically, it was another storm in 2003 that flooded the airport's old terminal building, prompting the airport authority to get serious about finding the money to build a new terminal. In 2005, it opened a $433,000 terminal complete with passenger and pilot lounges, restrooms, and a conference room. It was untouched by the winds that wiped out the hangars last June.

Airport Manager Mike Hodges said it didn't take long to fill the new hangars, which were completed May 1. Each houses 10 aircraft in private storage units.

While the old hangars were constructed with wood posts sunk in the dirt, the new ones are all-steel structures set on concrete. Convenient, electric bi-fold doors were installed for each storage unit in place of the cumbersome, sliding metal doors used in the old hangars.

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Last year s storm damaged both hangars at the Wood County Regional Airport and 18 aircraft that were parked inside.

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Mr. Hodges said each unit also was built two feet wider than the old ones, allowing for slightly larger aircraft to be stored there.

"They weren't cheap, but they're paid for, and we're getting more income from them," Mr. Hodges said. The old hangar units rented for $150 a month. The new ones are $200.

He said the airport is compiling a list of interested tenants in case there is enough demand to build a third hangar, though its top priority right now is razing its dilapidated old terminal and building a maintenance hangar where a fixed-based operator could offer mechanic and other aviation services. The airport authority secured a $500,000 state grant for the project.

Mike Solley, president of the airport authority, said the maintenance hangar is the next logical step in the airport's growth. "Take a look at the Wood County Regional Airport - we show pretty well. We're trying to grow to the next stage," he said. "We'll never be a Toledo Express or a Metcalf, but certainly we can be a larger general aviation airport."

Mr. Hodges said he'd like to see that happen - without Mother Nature getting involved.

"Our goal is just to make the airport better," he said. "We don't necessarily need another storm to make it better."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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