DARKE COUNTY — The Darke County Commissioners secured a $3.1 million Improvement Grant from the Federal Aviation Administration at no cost to state or local taxpayers for the Darke County Airport.
“This is not costing the county a cent,” said Commissioner Mike Rhoades. “It is a big gift – this is a big gift and it is very much appreciated what they did for us. They didn’t have to do it.”
Darke County is one of just three counties in the state that received the fully funded FAA grant from the Northeastern District of the FAA located in Romulus (Detroit), Michigan.
“We were competing against big airports – we really weren’t competing,” Rhoades stated. “We didn’t know they were doing it. It’s just that John Mayfield, the FAA Detroit Airports District Office Manager, asked us to put our wish list together, and the next thing you know, he said, ‘we can do this.’”
Justification for the one hundred percent federally funded project set forth by the FAA will not only bring the local airport into compliance but will add many new safety features.
“Because of our great relationship with the FAA and their understanding of our desire to continue the growth of tourism, company expansion, and recreational flying, the FAA wants to help with our plan for growth,” Commissioner Mike Stegall stated.
The Darke County Airport is home to Midmark Corporation, home to its based corporate jet aircraft. It is also used frequently by transient corporate aircraft of Fortune 100 companies who operate parts and factories in the region. These aircraft are required to back taxi for take-off or upon landing operation, significantly increasing their incident exposure while on the runway in a non-controlled environment. This new taxiway will mitigate potential risks on the airfield.
In addition, the current fuel and terminal facilities lie beyond the threshold end of the Runway 27 approach and, in some instances, represent obstructions to approach and/or departure surfaces. The construction of the parallel taxiway and terminal apron enable the relocation/development and fueling systems in compliance with current FAA criteria.
“Mike Rhoades and the Commissioners really took this airport by the horns and have done a very good job to keep pushing the FAA to see what they could fund to help and make sure we are going in the right direction, to keep developing,” said DC Airport manager, Scott Naas. “Mike has had this airport under his hand for a long time, so we know it will continue to go in the right direction.”
The project includes the construction of a parallel taxiway to Runway 9/27 (4,800 x 35’) and construction of a West Apron Terminal (6,700 SY).
“It is great to see years of planning come to fruition,” said Commissioner Matt Aultman. “It is also great to see $3.1 million of federal dollars return to Darke County to improve infrastructure to continue to strengthen our economic development options of local companies to utilize the airport. The airport is vital to our agriculture community as well when it comes to applying fungicides and cover crops to the farm ground.”
Mike Rhoades gets to see the fruit of his labors before closing out a long and distinguished Darke County Commissioner run.
“I’ve been a commission for 20 years, and my first year, I was saddled with the airport,” said Rhoades. “I have been working that time with the FAA trying to get everything accomplished and keeping the airport up to current standards. Last year we got a two million dollar grant given to us, and it only cost the county five percent ($100,000) of that out of the county general fund to get two million.
“We’ve been working with them. I’ve been up to Romulus, Michigan twice talking to the main man at the FAA – he had been down here in Darke County three times.”
“He came down in February asked us to get a list, a wish list of what else we wanted. The old taxiway only goes about halfway down the runway so the big planes couldn’t use that. The requirement for the new taxiway has to be 300 ft away from the existing runway. That put it over where we have two hangers that needed to be moved. Now we are going to put the new taxiway in, and we will be compliant with the FAA.
“That is going to cost 3.1 million to get it done, and I didn’t think anymore about it because five percent of that is $155,000. Well, the county will never be able to get that because we can’t give the kind of money up.”
“Next thing I know, a week ago Wednesday, they called and said you have been awarded 3.1 million dollars from the FFA department to put that taxiway in, and there is now a Cares Act,” Rhoades said. “He said the Cares Act will pick up your portion of that which is $155,000 – so we got all the money, we’re putting this all in, and it doesn’t cost our county taxpayers anything.”
A significant benefit of the new taxiway and west apron is the safety it brings to the airport.
“It is definitely a safety factor that we needed to make the airport more appreciable to the people,” concluded Rhoades. “It is definitely a safety factor for planes landing and taking off – for the small ones and the large ones.”
Work on the project has a planned start date of September 2020.
PHOTO CAPTION: Darke County Airport manager, Scott Naas stands on the current taxiway that does not meet FAA standards. (Gaylen Blosser photo)