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Westmoreland County Airport Authority confident air traffic tower will stay open

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Officials at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport are awaiting budget decisions by the federal government but expect the air traffic control tower to remain open.

As the fiscal budget year ends on Sept. 30, operations at the Unity airport through the Westmoreland County Airport Authority should not change, Chairman Don Rossi said.

“The tower will still operate; it's just a matter of who's going to pay to operate it,” he said, adding that the authority could pursue other public or private funding sources. “We'll have to pool the resources that we have and see what we're going to have to do.”

The tower, operated by Midwest Control Service Inc. of Overland, Kan., has five employees and operates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

When the tower is closed, planes land aided by a communications system installed in May to directly connect pilots to airports in Johnstown and Cleveland.

The system could be used if the tower closes permanently, Rossi said, noting that in larger airports, the tower helps control transitioning planes on the ground.

“A tower is only good for two minutes of flight: one minute landing and one minute taking off. Then you're in the air,” he said.

In March, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the need to cut $637 million under budget sequestration and considered closing the tower, among 189 nationwide at airports with fewer than 150,000 flights, by the end of September.

Arnold Palmer Regional tallied about 30,000 aircraft operations in the past fiscal year. Spirit Airlines' addition of flights to Dallas-Fort Worth in June could boost those numbers.

Originally, the tower was slated to close in April, then in May before the Sept. 30 date was set.

Rossi said he hopes officials will see the importance of the tower for air transportation to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I believe they're realizing they aren't going to risk the safety of the public,” he said.

The tower cost $46,100 to operate in 2012. Of that, $21,000 was paid by the federal government.

Executive director Gabe Monzo said he remains optimistic.

“We anticipate they're going to fund it,” he said.

At the authority board's monthly board meeting on Tuesday, officials reviewed three bids opened Sept. 5 for the addition of restrooms in the terminal building.

Arcon Contracting Inc. of West Mifflin was approved for the work as the apparent low bidder at $198,000.

Engineer Ed Masuti said although an option included the addition of seven executive parking spaces near the construction area, the cost was too high — about $20,000 — and he recommended adding only the restrooms, to be located near the ticket counter.

Masuti said the project could be completed by Christmas.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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