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Huntington area airparks bucking national trends

Herald-Dispatch photo by Sholten Singer Jordan Bledsoe is all smiles as she learns about being a pilot during the 2011 Ona Airpark Open House in tihs July 9, 2011, file photo. This year's event, set for Saturday, Sept. 26, will feature free plane rides for kids age 8 to 17 with parental permission and weather permitting, introductory flights for adults, aircraft displays, large-scale radio control model aircraft displays and demonstrations.
Herald-Dispatch photo by Sholten Singer
Jordan Bledsoe is all smiles as she learns about being a pilot during the 2011 Ona Airpark Open House in tihs July 9, 2011, file photo. This year’s event, set for Saturday, Sept. 26, will feature free plane rides for kids age 8 to 17 with parental permission and weather permitting, introductory flights for adults, aircraft displays, large-scale radio control model aircraft displays and demonstrations.

ONA, W.Va. — Many airfields serving small, rural communities around the country are closing, being re-purposed or demolished altogether.

The Tri-State is not without its share of small airfields. South Point Ashland, Ona and Lesage have small airparks intended to serve private planes. Most small airparks were created to serve an industrial park or other commercial center, according to aviation.com.

Combs Field, a small airport outside Paintsville, Kentucky, still hears the roar of engines up and down its runway. Only now, it’s the rattle and hum of souped-up race cars.

Other small community airports have also closed. An Associated Press article reported the airfield in rural Onawa, Iowa, closed because of the decline in the number of pilots. Since June 30, drag-racing has also been the primary use its 3,400-foot-long concrete runway.

So few planes touched down at the airport in Hartley, Iowa, the small community tore up its runway in 2010 and leased it to a farmer who now grows corn on the 80 acres. Officials in Hillsboro, Illinois, with a population of 6,000, also found a more profitable use for their rarely used airfield – it was sold to a coal company.

At Martin Field in South Sioux City, Nebraska, owner Gene Martin told the Associated Press he remembers when teenagers would bike out to the airfield and pay for flight lessons with money they earned from paper routes. Now, he said young people seem more interested in video games.

The number of flight instructors at Martin Field has fallen from 12 to three, and they’re not especially busy.

Martin told the Associated Press he has turned down offers to sell his 130 acres to housing developers.

At least two airparks in the Tri-State have stayed busy and useful while so many others have been abandoned, re-purposed or even demolished.

The number of public airports has dropped from 5,589 in 1990 to 5,155 in 2013. Pilots are having more trouble finding places to keep their planes.

There were 16 box hangars at the Ona Airpark and Speedway when Bill and Lynn Bauer bought it in 2007. Lynn Bauer said she’s familiar with the nationwide trends, but the Ona Airpark has staved off the effects.

“Sadly, it’s true many small airparks are struggling, and the future doesn’t look good for them,” Lynn Bauer said. “Here at the Ona Airpark, the outlook is not so bleak. Since 2007, we’ve built two additional large box hangars, a row of 12 T-hangars, a pilot’s lounge and offices and have the slab for another 10-unit T-hangar building. We are awaiting delivery of the building.”

Lynn Bauer said there are 21 people on the waiting list for Ona’s 10 new T-hangars…

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