Ohio GA Airport Beats with a Heart of Steel

Acquisition of Phillipsburg Airport has been a homecoming for its new owners and a home base for their aircraft sales business.

Phillipsburg Airport (3I7) sports a mix of old and new hangars—70 total, with 24 built by its current owners. [Courtesy: Jaime Steel-Potter]

Jaime Steel-Potter and her husband, Danny Potter, saved Phillipsburg Airport (3I7) in Ohio. Not only has the airport acquisition had a positive impact on their business, Steel Aviation, it represented a sentimental move for her.  

“I grew up here. It’s where my dad had his original paint shop and have been around the airport since I was 7 or 8 years old,” Steel-Potter said. “The former owner had some health issues and had to sell Phillipsburg [in 2012]. The grass was 4 feet tall. The pavement, the runway, and everything was a total mess. But because I had known how the airport was before, and how busy it was, I knew it was worth saving.”

When the couple jumped in to keep the airport running, there was one small detail that would become a time-consuming and costly challenge to overcome. 

“Next to the airport there is a huge commercial nursery where they grow plants and trees, who had their eye on the airport to turn into an extension of their current property,” she said. “I couldn’t stand to know that it would have been a nursery had we not saved it. This company is the largest landowner in the county, and they had their eyes [on the airfield], and partial claim on ownership. 

Inside Steel Aviation’s paint shop, which the couple had expanded from its original footprint. [Courtesy: Jaime Steel-Potter] 

“When we bought the airport, the center section of the runway was not owned by the current owners. The nursery had actually ended up purchasing that section of the land, and they sued us to close the airport. But the former owner of the airport had a first right of refusal to be able to purchase the land. It didn’t matter whether she could afford it or not, because she clearly couldn’t. We countersued and said, ‘Hey, look. We should have the opportunity, or at least Mrs. Miller should have the opportunity, to buy this land and you passed over her.’ The judge agreed and issued a summary judgment. We needed to come up with over half a million dollars in seven days.”

Steel-Potter said that this victory felt like a David and Goliath story. The duo has since invested more of their time and money into improving Phillipsburg for their business and the local aviation community. 

“There are 70 hangars here in total and we’ve put in 24 of them,” she said. “Some of the hangars are pretty old, though, so we are going to be tearing those down and putting new ones up. We have also renovated the existing main FBO building, have bought another building, and expanded my dad’s original paint shop with a new addition. We are also putting in a new FBO building with a really cool event space. It will be an airplane showroom for both Cirrus and Diamond aircraft [Steel Aviation is a Diamond Aircraft dealer for an eight-state territory and Jaime has closed over 2,700 used Cirrus].

“Then on the weekends, people will be able to rent it out for weddings and other events. Along with the event space, we are going to put in a commercial kitchen, and it’d be really cool if we could get a restaurant to come in and lease the space.” 

Phillipsburg Airport is a visible landmark for area residents, with an estimated 50,000 or more cars driving by each day. The addition of an on-field restaurant would further improve the accessibility of pilots and nonpilots interested in the airport and what is going on there. 

“In the summer 2023, we tore up the existing runway and put in a brand new 3,250-foot-long-by-75-foot-wide runway,” Steel-Potter said. “We haven’t really encouraged people to fly here [previously] because we used to have a 40-foot-wide runway until July. So really, unless pilots were really on their game, it was kind of dangerous to be here, and it was intimidating to some people. Now, we have a wider runway and a little bit more room in terms of a tarmac. So, we will start trying to get more people here.” 

This means an invitation for transient pilots, as well as other aviation businesses. She noted that there has been interest from flight schools and a vocational program, about basing their operations at Phillipsburg. Another possibility for the future is the addition of hangar condos. 

Like many other privately owned airport owners, Steel-Potter said that airport ownership isn’t the best path to financial independence. However, while she admits that owning an airport is challenging, it has been a rewarding experience for her. 

“I often say that this place is like a money pit because we receive no federal funding and no grant money,” she said. “It truly is self-funded. But the beauty of that is that we put up two rows of T-hangars and they put the same two rows of hangars down at Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport [KMGY]. We were able to get ours up in three months, and it took them two and a half years at quadruple the cost. And I own these hangars and don’t have a lease. From that standpoint, it’s been really beneficial. The flip side to that is when it snows, we have to maintain the runway. When it needs to be crack-sealed, or even a new runway surface is needed, I’m responsible for that. There are pluses and minuses.

Runway 3/21 at Phillipsburg Airport is 3,250 feet long by 75 feet wide. [Courtesy: Jaime Steel-Potter]

“We’ve looked at moving to Dayton International Airport [KDAY, located8 nm east] or moving some of our operations there. But I would put up a couple of million-dollar facilities that I would give back to the airport in 20 years and would still be responsible for the maintenance, taxes, and an impact fee. I would be paying the city $10,000 a month just to be on the land. When I bought Phillipsburg, I was 32, and it just didn’t make sense to take it and build that facility in Dayton to have to give it back in 20 years. It made more sense to take a chance on this place, and thankfully, it has worked out.” 

A lot of the airport’s success can be credited to its headlining tenant, Steel Aviation.

“I think the only way to truly make it work, and the only way that we’ve made it work here, is because we have Steel Aviation,” she said. “If I just were trying to run this place as a privately owned airport, it would never support itself, at least not to the level it does now with all of the new improvements. We get a ton of customers from Steel coming in and supporting the place. But to stand alone on its own, without everything that we have going on here, it would be tough.”

Grant Boyd is a private pilot with eight years of experience in aviation business, including marketing, writing, customer service, and sales. Boyd holds a Bachelor's and a Master's of Business Administration degree, both from Wichita State University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Oklahoma State University. He was chosen as a NBAA Business Aviation "Top 40 Under 40" award recipient in 2020.

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