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Longer runway a path to growth

| Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The plan to build a longer runway at Rock Airport and Business Park is the right idea, according to several aviation experts.

The question is whether the current owner, Rock Ferrone, or another owner will shepherd the project.

Currently, the 3,550-foot runway is used mainly for small personal and corporate planes. Ferrone is proposing a 5,000-foot runway, which he included in his original plans for the combination airport/airpark.

“We need to have 5,000 feet to bring the jets in,” Ferrone said. “They won't come in unless they have 5,000-plus feet.”

And 5,000 feet is the “magic number” for corporate jet business, said Sara Walfoort, transportation planning manager for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

The use of aircraft for business is growing, said Robert Rockmaker, executive director of the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania, a membership group of airports, charter operators, repair companies, flight schools and suppliers.

“The number of business jets is projected to grow at about 1.7 percent a year for the next two decades,” said Rockmaker.

Speaking about Rock Airport, Walfoort said it is “strategically located in an area lacking capability of accommodating small jets.”

A 2002 statewide airport system plan published by the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aviation agreed.

“Do we have a market? We presume we do,” said Walfoort. “But if we don't have a 5,000-foot runway, we won't know.”

Building and financing a runway expansion typically entails a number of studies and approvals from the FAA and the state.

“It's not a quick process,” Rockmaker said.

Time from planning to a runway ribbon-cutting can be from five to 10 years or longer, according to Rockmaker.

That's the case with the Butler County Airport in Penn Township, which is trying to expand its 4,801-foot runway to 5,000 feet.

According to Ivan Longdon, airport manager, the expansion is for the “sizeable market” of corporate aircraft from Marcellus shale projects.

“It's probably a 10- to 15-year process to get all the studies done and approval from FAA,” Longdon said.

”It's a long and tiring process,” he said. “Sometimes it can wear on you. But if you want it, you got stick with it.”

Ferrone said that he's already put time into securing some critical approvals.

But he won't be able to fully pursue the expansion until he emerges from bankruptcy.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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