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Arnold Palmer Regional Airport's success draws Pittsburgh International's attention

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Competition between airports in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties appears to have ratcheted up.

As Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe continues to increase flights and passengers, officials at Pittsburgh International Airport are looking at ways to pick up some of that business.

“When we lose passengers to other airports, it affects our bottom line,” said JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for Pittsburgh International.

Billboards have started to appear in Westmoreland County touting flights from Pittsburgh.

“We offer many flights, and it's important we maintain an awareness of that in Westmoreland County,” Jenny said.

As a direct result of the increased competition, Westmoreland officials said, they were forced to find a new lobbying firm to help secure state and federal funding for projects at and near the Unity airport. Westmoreland Commissioner Charles Anderson said the firm initially hired to do that job, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, told county officials that it was directed by the Pittsburgh airport to withdraw from its work with Westmoreland County.

Buchanon Ingersoll also lobbies for Pittsburgh International Airport.

Jenny declined to discuss the lobbyist situation. Representatives from Buchanon Ingersoll did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Westmoreland County was to pay the firm $96,000 this year.

Last week, Westmoreland commissioners hired Cameron Companies of Solebury to do the same job for $6,000 less.

Westmoreland officials said having a different lobbying firm will better position the county to secure funding for the airport.

“Based on our agenda we needed somebody who can partner with the county and move our objectives forward,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said.

Additional flights on a discount airline, along with free parking, have contributed to the Unity airport's success, according to Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority.

In February 2011, Florida-based Spirit Airlines started operating almost daily flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Myrtle Beach.

Before the Spirit flights, the Unity airport handled about 3,220 passengers a year. That number jumped to 137,012 since the Spirit flights started.

And the airline has announced that it will begin flights to Dallas next year.

County officials are looking to expand the airport and have revived plans for the construction of the Laurel Valley Expressway, a road that would link the Pennsylvania Turnpike near New Stanton to the airport.

Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant with the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo., said there is no competition between Pittsburgh International and Arnold Palmer Regional.

Boyd said the airports attract different customer bases with the Unity airport luring vacationers looking for low fares to specific locations while Pittsburgh serves a wide range of passengers, including business travelers.

“They are compatible services,” Boyd said. “Because of the low fares at Arnold Palmer, they are creating traffic that wasn't going there before. It's a net plus for Western Pennsylvania.”

Local officials downplayed any competition with Pittsburgh.

“We're stimulating the market. Any expansion we do, that Pittsburgh does, in the long turn we will have created more people that will fly,” Monzo said.

The airports are even working together on some projects.

Monzo said the Westmoreland authority is part of task force, with other regional airports throughout Pennsylvania, that is exploring the possibility of restarting a commuter air service that would funnel travelers to Pittsburgh from the smaller airports.

“We are all in this together,” Monzo said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or