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Westmoreland

Wider runway, 2 millionth passenger eyed at Arnold Palmer airport in 2019

Jeff Himler
| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, 10:48 a.m.
The existing passenger boarding bridge, seen on Jan. 8, 2019, at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, soon will be supplemented by a second, longer bridge designed for larger aircraft.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
The existing passenger boarding bridge, seen on Jan. 8, 2019, at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, soon will be supplemented by a second, longer bridge designed for larger aircraft.
Arcon Contracting crew members, from left, Fred Mantsch of North Huntingdon and David John of Butler begin work on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, for converting a baggage area at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport to a secure holding area for a new passenger boarding bridge.
Jeff Him ler | Tribune-Review
Arcon Contracting crew members, from left, Fred Mantsch of North Huntingdon and David John of Butler begin work on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, for converting a baggage area at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport to a secure holding area for a new passenger boarding bridge.

Arnold Palmer Regional Airport expects to reach a milestone in 2019: serving its two millionth passenger since February 2011, when Spirit Airlines became the facility’s sole commercial carrier.

Officials at the Unity airport also plan to widen the runway as preparations proceed for installing a second passenger boarding bridge.

The milestone in passenger numbers — for both arriving and departing Spirit flights — could come as early as next month. The airport experienced a nearly half-percent uptick in passengers from 2017 to 2018, according to the Westmoreland County Airport Authority.

The annual Year in Review report, released last week, notes total inbound and outbound passengers increased from 299,391 in 2017 to 300,858 last year.

“That’s no small feat for an airport built for significantly less passengers,” the report notes. “We’ve made it work for eight years.”

When the airport terminal was last expanded in 1998, planners anticipated serving about 20,000 passengers a year.

In 2018, the authority resurfaced the runway. It also expanded parking and opened a new entrance connected to a roundabout intersection on Route 981.

This year, officials expect to begin work on the first part of an estimated $13 million, two-phase project to widen and strengthen the runway. Expanding the runway width from 100 feet to 150 feet will provide pilots an extra margin of comfort when landing in poor weather conditions, said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the airport authority.

“Having the extra 50 feet of space will enable us to not divert flights to other airports, and we can also take some diversions from other airports,” Monzo said.

New 20-foot shoulders will make it easier to remove snow from behind runway lights.

Engineering consultant Scott Kunselman, of GAI Consultants, said the authority will apply for funding for the project’s first phase and hopes to be ready to seek bids in May.

To allow flights to continue without interruption during the first phase of widening, the airport would close one end of the 8,223-foot runway, likely in the coming fall, and then switch work to the opposite end during spring of 2020.

“We’ll shut down as much of the runway as we can and still be able to operate Spirit flights,” Kunselman said.

That will be more of a challenge during the second phase, when the remaining middle section of the runway will be widened and the entire runway will be resurfaced.

As part of a $1.4 million project, general contractor Arcon Contracting is working to convert a portion of the airport’s baggage handling area into a new secure holding area that will be associated with a second passenger loading bridge.

The airport’s existing bridge is more than a decade old and was designed for use with Boeing 737 airplanes. The new, longer bridge will provide a more gradual slope for reaching the larger Airbus planes Spirit uses for its flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and destinations in Florida, authority officials have said.

Having a second bridge will make it more convenient for passengers when two Spirit flights arrive at the airport in close proximity.

The authority has requested $15 million in supplemental Federal Aviation Administration funding to pursue its ultimate goal — expanding the Arnold Palmer terminal by as much as 50 percent, allowing for a second lane in the security checkpoint and the possibility of yet another passenger bridge.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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