The control tower at the Ohio State University Airport is now scheduled to close June 15 -- maybe.
Doug Hammon, director of Don Scott Field, part of what's being rebranded as the Ohio Aeronautics Campus, was the guest speaker at last week's Northwest Civic Association annual meeting.
Wherever he goes these days, Hammon said, the No. 1 question he's asked is when the tower is slated to go dark. For now, he said, the answer is June 15, the result of automatic cuts in federal spending.
However, that's subject to change. The Federal Aviation Administration already delayed the originally scheduled April 7 closings of the towers at Don Scott, Bolton Field and 147 others across the country, Hammon told civic association members.
OSU officials are lobbying the FAA to spare Don Scott from having its tower closed at all, he said, citing both safety and the role it plays in the learning laboratory for the next generation of aviation professionals.
After all, Hammon pointed out, it was the FAA itself that last year designated Don Scott Field one of 84 National Priority Airports out of 2,300 nationwide.
"We're looking at options," Hammon said, adding those options include having the university take over the cost of operating the tower or contracting with a private entity.
In addition, bills have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate to prevent the towers from being closed as part of the sequestration funding reductions.
"On the one hand, I don't think it's going to happen," Hammon said.
If the June 15 date is adhered to, he continued, the air-traffic controllers at Port Columbus International Airport will be that much busier.
OSU Airport officials, the director added, are less concerned about safety in the air as on the ground.
On average, 200 runway crossings a day occur at Don Scott Field, named for an All-America football, basketball and track star who was killed in October 1943 while flying a training mission in England.
"We'll operate," Hammon assured his audience.
In a wide-ranging talk focusing on the past, present and future of the aviation program at OSU, Hammon said the university's first airport was certified in 1917 by none other than Orville Wright on a site that is now Ohio Stadium.
Hammon joked that the aviation program has held a grudge against the athletic department ever since.
The current facility opened on 1,200 acres off Case Road opened in 1942.
Don Scott is the fourth busiest airport in Ohio and among the top 100 busiest in the country, the director said.
It is the only airport owned by a "top-tier research institution" that includes air-traffic controllers, Hammon said.
A 2012 update of a 2004 study estimated the airport's direct and indirect economic impact on central Ohio is $157 million a year, he said.
Future plans call for a new terminal that would incorporate a flight school.
The building would contain more meeting space and possibly a new restaurant, meaning corporate customers landing at the facility don't have to go offsite, Hammon said.
Plans are also in place to extend the north runway to a length of 6,000 feet.
According to Hammon's PowerPoint presentation such a move "provides local companies with access to the global marketplace." The date for that is not known, Hammon said.
Finally, future plans call for creating a research and development park on 50 acres the airport owns to the north of the existing airport.
In response to a question from Northwest Civic Association President John Ehlers, Hammon said he was more confident today in the long-term viability of the airport than he was two years ago, when the facility was under much fire from Worthington residents regarding noise.