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Officials push for new terminal at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport

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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

With Spirit Airlines adding more flights and destinations from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, airport officials are building a case for constructing a new terminal that could cost about $20 million and handle as many as 500 passengers at a time.

“I wish the new terminal would be under construction today. I'm approaching it as an emergency situation,” Donald Rossi, chairman of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said Tuesday following the authority's meeting.

Spirit serves Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport and plans more flights to the regional airport next year.

The discount carrier plans three weekly nonstop flights to Dallas-Fort Worth starting June 14, which could make the airport a destination for Western Pennsylvania travelers going to California. Spirit connects Dallas-Fort Worth with nonstop flights to San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland.

Its seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., will begin in February, rather than in May, as in 2011 and 2012.

“As long as we keep growing, we will need a new facility. We are having a vibrant explosion ... in growth,” Rossi said.

The authority wants to construct a larger terminal north of the existing one with a restaurant and retail space, Rossi said. A shuttle would connect the new and the existing terminal, which still would be used, Rossi said.

Based on plans from its engineer, Lee-Simpson Associates Inc. of DuBois, additional bays for planes could be added to the new terminal, Rossi said.

A larger terminal will be needed because the airport is expected to serve 250,000 to 300,000 passengers next year, Rossi said. Spirit Airlines, the airport's lone carrier with scheduled flights, has flown more than 120,000 passengers in the first 10 months of the year, and more than 200,000 since it began operations at the airport in February 2011.

The passenger load “taxes the system very hard. The system is working at peak level,” Rossi said.

The airport can handle Spirit's 178-seat Airbus A320, providing a turnaround time of 40 minutes to have the plane ready for takeoff, as required by Spirit, said Jeff Minkovich, operations manager for Latrobe Airline Services. The company provides customer service inside the terminal and at the airplane.

Any plans for a new terminal must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, Rossi said.

Arlene Salac, a spokeswoman at the FAA in New York, could not be reached for comment.

County officials support the initiative and are working with the authority on seeking funding, Rossi said. The airport authority would finance the project with a bond issue, he said.

County officials have discussed the project with airport officials and need to get an estimated cost, said Matt Junker, chief of staff to Commissioner Charles Anderson.

“It might take a year or two for a design estimate,” Junker said.

PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation would become involved after the authority gets the required clearances from the FAA, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, a PennDOT spokeswoman. The terminal project would need to be placed on PennDOT's four-year investment time line, Waters-Trasatt said.

The airport authority could get state funding if the project were placed on the state's capital budget program, which requires the support of a local legislator, Waters-Trasatt said.

In anticipation of serving more passengers in 2013, Latrobe Airline Services plans to hire five more part-time employees early next year, before Spirit starts flights to Myrtle Beach, Minkovich said.

“We want everyone fully trained and in place” in February, Minkovich said.

Latrobe Airline Services has about 40 full-time and part-time employees who work customer service inside the terminal and service the planes and passenger baggage outside.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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