Westmoreland County Airport Authority OKs $3 million bond issue to expand Arnold Palmer Regional Airport

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 11:09 p.m.

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority board on Tuesday approved a $3 million bond issue as part of long-term planning to expand Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, including widening the runway to accommodate larger planes.

The money will execute projects in a new, 20-year master plan that the authority has been preparing for a year. The plan calls for an expansion of the terminal building.

“We look to the future all the time,” Chairman Oland Canterna said.

Member Don Rossi said the authority plans to add 50 feet to the runway, increasing it to 150 feet across, with 25 feet more on each side for runway lights.

Planes as large as Boeing 757s are able to land at the airport now, but a wider path is needed for regular traffic, Rossi said. The plan includes “stiffening” the runway to add more weight capacity for the bigger planes, he said.

“We're near maximum level now, so we want the stiffening and widening to be able to grow for the future,” Rossi said.

Spirit Airlines uses Airbus 319 planes with a capacity of 178 passengers; Boeing 757s can carry 200 to 228 passengers, depending on configuration.

In July, the carrier flew 25,701 passengers through the Unity airport, for a total of 153,521 in 2014.

The bond funds will match a $2 million grant from PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation, authority Executive Director Gabe Monzo said.

Renovations outlined in the master plan could cost between $5 million and $10 million, depending on federal funding, said Rossi, head of the finance committee.

Interest rates are at about 2.9 percent, and terms of the bond allow for up to 6 percent.

The master plan was discussed in one of a series of meetings this week. Consultants will return to the airport for at least two more planning meetings before the final draft is reviewed before the public.

Rossi said it could be adopted by the end of the year.

In other business, the a 1983 shuttle bus, which needed extensive engine repairs, was replaced with two new vehicles that will be alternated to pick up passengers in the parking lot.

Rossi and authority board member Dick Ridilla made donations to buy both buses for about $40,000 total. Ridilla said he wanted to donate “just to help people out, keep people from walking in the rain.”

The old bus looped around the parking lot for four years, racking up 50,000 miles, Rossi said.

The new buses will hold about 12 passengers each, with room for luggage.

For the Rostraver Airport, the board approved construction of a new hangar for helicopter service company Uniflight West Penn, using $270,000 in state grant money.

The 120-by-200 foot hangar will have a 60-vehicle parking lot. Beyond that, it will lease for 12 cents per square foot, or about $1,020 per month, for 20 years.

The board approved extending a lease agreement with Enterprise Rent-A-Car through March 2018. The lease doesn't specify a location in the terminal to account for any building expansion within that time, Solicitor Don Snyder said.

Board members praised employees for their response to two incidents within the last month, including a suspicious package found July 26.

The package was “the closest thing I've ever seen something look like a bomb” in 40 years of public safety experience, Monzo said, but it was a child's science project with electronics.

About 400 people, including a party in the banquet hall, were in the terminal when it was evacuated for about an hour. Passengers arriving from Orlando were held on the tarmac for about 30 minutes.

The incident is only the second time in recent memory that the building has been evacuated, Monzo said.

Board members praised security officer Keith Lewis for assisting a choking patron at DeNunzio's restaurant in the terminal, saying his quick action helped the man recover. “He's to be commended for that,” Monzo said.

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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