Armstrong County’s airport authority is growing, even though county officials do not have plans to build an airport or to expand the McVille Airport in South Buffalo.
The Armstrong County Commissioners appointed former County Commissioner Bob Bower, of West Kittanning, and Anthony Ferrante, the Chairman of the Latrobe Airport and a Vandergrift resident, to serve on the authority, just in case there are opportunities to secure funding for an airport.
“An airport authority is tasked to monitor and look into ways to promote an airport in Armstrong County, if those opportunities arise,” Bower said. “Armstrong County is one of three counties in Pennsylvania without a county airport.”
Bower, who is a licensed pilot, said reactivating the authority was a preemptive strike in the event the county decides to build an airport. The authority meets twice a year to discuss aviation-based issues.
There are currently 124 public airports in Pennsylvania, which are owned by county or municipal governments, or are privately owned with public access. The airports are overseen by PennDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration.
In 1964, the county appointed an authority to explore opening an airport, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that Gilpin, West Franklin and South Buffalo were identified as possible locations to build one. The plan was scrapped because the public did not support the project. Shortly after that, the authority became inactive.
The McVille Airport is privately owned, but allows public use for small aircrafts. It is not large enough to accept jet traffic, Bower said.
The airport was closed for seven years to allow strip mining beneath its runway. It reopened in 2014, and the county appointed six people to the long dormant Airport Authority.
Since reopening, officials used grants from PennDOT to replace its grass landing strip with a paved runway, purchase snow removal equipment and build a hangar that can hold up to a dozen aircrafts.
Each day, the airport handles several small, privately-owned planes and chartered flights, but its 2,800-foot runway is not long enough to accommodate larger planes or jets.
“It can now accommodate small business planes, just not large jets,” Bower said. “We probably need more than 700 feet of additional runway to accommodate a jet.”
Last year, the county commissioners have committed $3,500 in Marcellus Shale Legacy funding to study the 125-acre airport. The study by GAI Consultants of Homestead has not been completed, but will determine costs of adding a landing system, runway lighting and helicopter pad, and how those improvements could benefit the county. With results in hand, the county would then seek grants to fund the improvements.
The money for the study of the only airport in the county is coming from the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund. The airport would be eligible for PennDOT grants because it permits public planes to use the facilities.
Bower said the authority plans to help McVille Airport continue seeking out state and federal grants to expand their operations.
“We’re looking for any way to help them secure grants since some of our money, which Armstrong County residents pay for through their taxes, goes to all the other counties because we don’t have an airport,” Bower said. “We’re being cheated out of our own money.”