Jefferson County Airpark
Jefferson County Airpark lands a winning host of aviation initiatives
Serving the Buckeye State and beyond with initiatives that are expertly taking off
While some regional airports are feeling the financial pinch as we fly beyond the pandemic, Jefferson County Airpark is hard at work providing its aviation traffic as well as the area’s residents a first-class gateway to a beautiful region of Ohio.
We recently spoke with Jefferson County Airpark Manager Brian Thaxton. He told us more about this full-service, general-aviation public airport. It brings in more than $11 million in revenue for the County, and airport-related businesses provide more than 60 jobs. Dating to 1948, it features a large base of general-aviation airplanes, as well as a transient corporate market that’s growing at a fairly rapid pace. As you might expect, the popular Franciscan University, just 10 miles away, serves to bring in a high volume of traffic.
The addition of the Findlay Connector, which opened 17 years ago in western Pennsylvania as a toll-access highway between Pittsburgh International Airport at I-376 and US-22 in northwestern Washington County, cut the travel time between this major airport and the city of Steubenville to now less than half an hour. It’s a big economic boon to the region, and it also makes the Jefferson County Airpark look more attractive to potential new businesses.
Steubenville, situated on the Ohio River, is a scant six miles from Pennsylvania. This proximity to Pittsburgh and other such Keystone State communities is also a big economic advantage, and the Jefferson County Airpark can quite literally take you there.
Thaxton also offered updates on the most recent goings-on and significant improvements at the airport.
“Last year,” he says, “we finished and completely upgraded our taxiway. They tore it all down and put new (surfacing) in, and we got new runway lighting and taxiway lighting—all LED (or light-emitting diodes). That’s been a massive upgrade for the pilots.”
Thaxton continues that a main target right now is the pursuit of grant money to build a wildlife fence that fully encompasses the airport. This will increase safety not only for critters (deer are often a hazard at such airports), of course, but also for pilots. Thaxton says this is the airport’s biggest project on the near horizon.
Plus, within the last two years, the airport has acquired six new box hangars. Thaxton reports that they’re all full.
“That’s been a successful market for us,” he adds, “because we’ve been able to accommodate people that want a little bit more than a tee hanger but not a full corporate-style hanger. They’ve been very popular.”
Turning out the next generation of North America’s pilots is more important than ever these days, especially given the ongoing pilot shortage. Thaxton says Pier Aviation is helping address this problem. Also located in Jefferson County, it’s quite close by and is named for R.G. and Pauline Pier, who founded what is today the Jefferson County Airpark as Pier Airport, 75 years ago.
“They’ve been busier in the last six to eight months than I think they’ve ever been,” Thaxton says of Pier Aviation.
Avgas (or aviation gasoline) has never been cheap. These days, it’s averaging about $7 a gallon on the East Coast. Yet Thaxton says the Jefferson County Airpark works hard to keep it down.
“We try to keep our fuel prices as competitive as possible,” he adds.
Relatedly, the airport’s fixed-based operation (or FBO) is controlled by Jefferson County itself, as Thaxton reveals. It’s a not-uncommon practice amongst a host of regional airports across America.
“We run it,” says Thaxton, “and we’ve got 24-hour jet fuel and have gas available. We’ve got a fuel-truck crew car. We’re in the process of adding a GPU (or a ground-power unit; vehicles usually powered by Diesel fuel and supplying power to parked aircraft) and just trying to become more capable—taking baby steps—and trying to accommodate larger airplanes and make them feel like we can accommodate them and that, whatever their needs are, we can take care of them.”
In addition, the Jefferson County Airpark co-operates with officials of the Federal Aviation, the Ohio Department of Transportation, and other state, county, and local government entities.
At the time of our interview, it was 11 a.m., and Thaxton added that three corporate flights had already been through the airport.
“For a small airport,” he observes, “that’s a pretty big deal, in my opinion. We’ve got people coming in from all over the country. I don’t know exactly what their businesses were or why they were here, but all of them were happy to see a modern, clean FBO and were happy with the services they received. It’s just been a constant incline for the corporate side. The idea is if it makes sense to the pilots geographically, we are a really good alternative to some of the Pittsburgh airports that are busier and more expensive and harder to get in and out of.”
Thaxton continues that the airport has a lot of business potential.
“We still have about 10 acres of undeveloped land that could be used for aviation or non-aviation,” he reveals. “That is something we’ve been actively looking at and talking about options.”
The airport is open to the idea of corporations building hangars, and as Thaxton notes, there are options for that as well.
“We’ve got room for growth still,” he adds, although he admits the airpark isn’t quite ready for commercial regional options, as that’s a different ballgame and a different market, requiring another class of airport.
He continues that the runway was lengthened to 5,000 feet about 10 years ago.
“As it stands, that’s about the maximum length we can do geographically,” he says. “A bigger issue that we’re wanting to address is lengthening our taxiway to make it a full parallel taxiway. That’s one of our future goals as well. It’s a beyond-the-fence project.”
The airport also features a modern terminal building, with such amenities as a 24-hour pilots’ lounge, bathrooms, and showers, plus self-service aviation and jet fuel during the night and tanker trucks during the day.
Talking of growth, Thaxton cites the Jefferson County Commissioners and the Jefferson County Port Authority. Both entities recognize the airpark as an opportunity for growth.
“We’ve got a great relationship with both,” he adds, “and we’ve had events here with the commissioners and the port authority. We work together very well, and we’re trying to find ways to use the airport to help grow the county, business-wise. One of the commissioners always calls it a true diamond in the rough. A lot of people don’t know we’re here and don’t know our capabilities. We’re trying to get that out.”
More about Thaxton
Thaxton spoke more about how he began in the aviation business. His career started when he worked as an A&P (or airframe and powerplant) mechanic for 15 years.
“I had several customers,” he reveals, “and I ran a retail maintenance shop at a different airport. Several of my customers were based in Jefferson County, and through conversations with them about different things, it came to my attention that the airport manager position was open. I thought that it would be a nice change of pace but still be in the aviation industry, and I got the job.”
It’s a job that Thaxton has been enjoying now for the past five years.
“I love the different challenges that come with managing an airport,” he says, “and it’s not much different from working on airplanes in the sense that everything starts safety-oriented, and you make your decisions from there when it comes to airport safety and pilot safety.”
Then there are the various other tasks, duties, and responsibilities. Whether it’s repairing different things, maintaining the optimal airport operations, keeping it operational, or staying on top of things with preventative maintenance, Thaxton wears a lot of different hats in his capacity as the airport manager.
What are Thaxton’s top priorities for the next year and a half or so? Again, it’s safety that’s in the number-one position.
“Basically,” he says, “I’d have to say, just increase safety. You know, it’s always good to increase sales and sell more fuel and fill more hangars, but I feel that the emphasis is shifted more towards a safe, modern, well-working airport. If you achieve that, I feel that all the other issues will fall into place with fuel sales and hangar rent, and growth will follow that, I believe.”
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AT A GLANCE
Jefferson County Airpark
What: A full-service, general-aviation public airport
Where: near Steubenville, Ohio