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Published: Saturday, 11/9/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Erie-Ottawa airport to get foreign flights

Sandusky’s longtime, private Griffing airfield is up for sale

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport in Port Clinton, shown in 2008 as a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor prepared for take off, is to become Erie-Ottawa International Airport today with a flight to Pelee Island. Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport in Port Clinton, shown in 2008 as a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor prepared for take off, is to become Erie-Ottawa International Airport today with a flight to Pelee Island.
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PORT CLINTON — A ceremonial flight to Pelee Island and back is planned today to consummate Erie-Ottawa Regional Airport’s redesignation as Erie-Ottawa International Airport, and it also will signal a changing of the guard for aviation in north-central Ohio.

The name change reflects that the airport off State Rts. 2 and 53 in Ottawa County’s Portage Township now may receive flights originating in foreign countries. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents will be available to inspect travelers and cargo, granting entry to the United States and assessing duties where appropriate.

“It’s all about global economic development,” Stan Gebhardt, director for the Erie-Ottawa International Airport Authority, said Friday. “For this airport to grow, we needed to have that service.”

It also was needed for Griffing Flying Service, based for decades at Griffing Airport in Sandusky, to move to Erie-Ottawa, which will allow the privately owned Sandusky airport to be closed. Griffing’s operations include air-taxi service between the northern Ohio mainland and Lake Erie islands, including Canada’s Pelee Island.

“The airport in Port Clinton has long needed the services that we will provide,” while operating costs at the Sandusky airport have “just overrun what we can afford,” said company president Thomas Griffing, who will pilot the ceremonial flight today.

Steve Hudec, the airport authority’s president, will co-pilot the flight, while Jim Sass and Tom Ferrell, county commissioners from Ottawa and Erie counties, respectively, will go along for the ride.

Obtaining the “international” designation was a two-year process, Mr. Gebhardt said, during which Customs officials vetted the airport to determine its suitability to handle international arrivals.

For now, Customs operations will be handled out of a temporary trailer, but the airport authority is designing a building for which construction is expected to start in the spring and cost about $250,000. The cost will be rolled into a broader airport-improvements program that also has included construction of new hangars and airfield improvements, financed by a loan from the Ohio Infrastructure Bank.

Anyone wishing to fly into Erie-Ottawa from Canada — or any other foreign country — would be required to file a formal flight plan containing an estimated time of arrival and identifying all passengers and cargo. Customs officials would be notified, and upon arrival all people and cargo aboard such flights must remain on board until signaled otherwise by Customs agents.

Mr. Gebhardt said that for now, Griffing’s thrice-daily flights — six on Fridays and Sundays — from Pelee will be the sole international arrivals at Erie-Ottawa, but “we are seeking to expand to attract additional international business.”

Mr. Griffing said that besides its air-taxi flights to Pelee, Griffing Flying Service often runs charter flights to and from Canada.

The company also will be a fixed-base operator at Erie-Ottawa, meaning that it will sell aviation fuel, maintain and store airplanes, offer flight lessons, and provide other aviation services, just as it has done in Sandusky.

Most public-access airports are government-owned now and funded with tax dollars, including Federal Aviation Administrator grants, Mr. Griffing noted, whereas all of the Sandusky airport’s needs had to be met with operating revenue.

The Sandusky airport, along U.S. 6 east of the city, opened in 1928 and was bought by the Griffing family in 1937, Mr. Griffing said. The 120-acre property is for sale and negotiations are under way with a prospective buyer, he said.

Griffing Flying Service expects to complete its move to Erie-Ottawa by year’s end, and is spending about $15,000 to renovate the building it has leased from the airport authority

Moving out will “be very sad, and it’s even tougher for my Dad,” Mr. Griffing said, referring to Tom Griffing, who recently transferred oversight after five decades running the Sandusky airport. “I’m looking at what the future is going to bring, where he’s a little more sentimental about the past.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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