MANSFIELD – Travelers in the north central Ohio region often flock to the region’s major cities, Columbus and Cleveland, for commercial flights departing from John Glenn Columbus International Airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
But, the region is also home to a handful of smaller regional and county airports that offer flight services to companies and private citizens alike.
Richland, Ashland and Knox Counties each have an airport, albeit of varying sizes and uses. Richland and Knox Counties have regional airports, which are larger than Ashland’s county airport. Common among the public-use airports is their ability to serve as a point place for local imports and exports.
Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport, which is owned by the city of Mansfield, is centrally located just over an hour from the international airports in the region’s major cities. The airport averages 56 daily arrivals and departures per day on its 6,819 x 150-foot runway, according to data collected from its control tower.
Air traffic was up 60% in the past year, airport managing partner Doug Kelly said.
Niss Aviation became the airport’s fixed operator base after acquiring the previous FBO, Richland Aviation, a year ago on Jan. 1, 2021. An FBO provides fueling, hangaring, airplane rentals, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, among other services at the airport.
While Mansfield Lahm does not offer commuter or commercial flights, charter services are available from Niss Aviation.
Kelly and partner/chief pilot Zack Kelly, who is Doug’s son, spoke about major changes the airport has undergone in recent years, including renovating the terminal building and the addition of a hangar. Hangars are closed structures that hold aircraft, offering protection from weather and a space for maintenance and repairs.
The airport has 25 total hangars, airport manager Mark Daugherty said, with two operated by the FBO.
“This terminal in a sense is the front door to our city,” Zack Kelly said.
As a pilot, Kelly often flies business executives in and out of Mansfield Lahm for location scouting and meetings. The terminal is both the first and last impression the business executives get of the city, he explained.
Traffic in and out of Mansfield Lahm is business-related and recreational. The Kelly’ compared recreational travel to boating. Someone may fly a plane to take their family to lunch in Port Clinton or Put-in-Bay and then return the same day, for example.
But, the airport is also a business tool.
Some of the top employers in the area use Mansfield Lahm, both to transport goods and for leadership travel, such as C&G Associates, Gorman-Rupp and Next Generation Films.
“We’re moving guys all over, from plant to plant, because logistically if they can visit three plants in one day versus airlining around all this would take a week,” Zack Kelly said. “They can move guys, fix problems, visit customers, solve issues, with companies the size of C&G, Gorman-Rupp, time is so important.”
Rental cars are available for those who fly into Mansfield or other areas in the region. Because it is a regional airport, Mansfield Lahm also supports surrounding counties within roughly a 50-mile radius, Zach Kelly said.
The airport is also home to Mansfield Aviation Club, founded in 1949, which provides scholarships and celebrations. Beyond business and personal travel, Mansfield Lahm has an Air National Guard Base.
The airport has 62 airplanes based on its 2,400 acres — the majority being single engine (39) with 10 multi-engine, four jets and eight military aircraft, Doug Kelly said. Two of the most recent additions to the airport are a self-serve fuel tank, which opened mid-January to allow people to fuel up 24 hours a day, and a flight school.
The flight school, AeroTrek Flight Academy, opened a campus location at Mansfield Lahm in the summer of 2021 and has other campuses in Wadsworth, Akron-Canton and Wayne County airports.
“As a local who grew up here who was interested in aviation, I’d come out here and sit here at the old Flying Turtle (restaurant), see airplanes coming and going,” Zack Kelly said. “There was no way of me actually taking a flying lesson or seeing if I was interested.”
Similar to how AeroTrek has a campus at the airport, there are other businesses based at the airport that serve aircraft, including Modern Avionics and Maintenance, Inc.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) recently announced Mansfield Lahm will receive $295,000 in federal funding over the next five years under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Nearby, Knox County Regional Airport will also receive $295,000 and Ashland County Airport will receive $159,000. Financial allocations are based on airport size.
Overall, Ohio will receive almost $254 million in Airport Infrastructure Grant program formula dollars.
The Kellys hope to continue building upon the recent growth Mansfield Lahm has undergone, mentioning the potential to build more hangars and adapt to new technologies — such as electric airplanes.
"The more stuff going on, the better," Zack Kelly said. "We're here to support whatever wants to land here."