This week’s First Friday Forum features an experienced airport and economic development individual who serves as executive director for the Johnson County Airport Commission. Lee Metcalfe plans to share his aviation and economic development experiences at the 10 a.m.-to-11 a.m. public forum. He might provide some insight regarding the future of such entities.

Ottawa is saying goodbye to its longtime airport manager, Chuck LeMaster, in a few weeks. While LeMaster, who officially is known as a fixed base operator (FBO), leaves big shoes to fill, the transition offers the city and its airport advisory board an opportunity to think about its short- and long-term goals for the airport. It should select a successor who can help fulfill such goals for the community.

Is it enough to be “just an airport” or do more opportunities need to be explored? Does the airport’s recent runway renovation offer more aspects to market and attract more pilots and revenue to the area? Do the airport and its surroundings offer enough appeal to make it one of the area’s next industrial parks? What would it take to make the Ottawa Municipal Airport, 2178 Montana Road — OWI — one of the few in Kansas that makes money? What other initiatives can be undertaken to promote general and commercial aviation at the Ottawa airport?

Those are just a few of the questions to consider as the city mulls its options for the airport’s next leader. Full utilization of all assets at the airport is imperative toward the goal of not leaving any money on the proverbial table. Full exploration of what is desired for the airport can serve as an essential guide for those selecting LeMaster’s successor.

Two of the more financially successful airports in Kansas — Salina and Winfield — might offer useful business models for the city and advisory board to consider implementing locally. Though Ottawa’s airport doesn’t have the infrastructure those airports offer, crafting a strategy and timetable on how to get there is reasonable. Expediting those decisions, no doubt, is important to local aviation enthusiasts and owners of airplanes who want to know what happens after LeMaster’s pending departure.

The sky offers numerous economic benefits for the community. It behooves the community to push the boundaries of how the airport has been operated in the past and expect even more of its potentially high-altitude performance in the future.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher