Managing Airports Today
Wanted: Air Service
LTB equipped to attract, retain new carrier
By Jodi Richards
LATROBE, PA — Midsummer, US Airways Express, operated by Mesa Airlines,pulled its flights here, leaving Arnold Palmer Regional Airport withoutscheduled service. While the terminal sits empty, the staff is certainly not idle. Airport manager Gabe Monzo and executive director Gene Lakin are “beating the streets” to find other service. And with a recently awarded Small Community Air Service Development grant, Monzo says the airport is on the right track to return scheduled service to what he calls the Eastern Pittsburgh market.
LTB was named in honor of the professional golfer who is originally from Latrobe and learned to fly at this airport. Palmer also serves on the board of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which operates the airport. The airport was established in the 1930s, says Monzo, while the airport authority was formed and assumed control of the airport in 1951. Members of the authority are appointed by the Westmoreland County commissioner.
Gabe Monzo, airport manager (below), says LTB is actively pursuing new carriers to serve the Eastern Pittsburgh market.
Except for charter flights, the LTB terminal has been vacant since July 11.
Arnold Palmer Regional Airport is home to two FBOs, Vee Neal Aviation and L.J. Aviation.
Expensive, Worthwhile Service
Even though service was expensive out of Latrobe, Monzo says it was “good service,” and the business community was willing to pay for it. “US Airways started here in 1985. Their pullout is disheartening, but it also gave us an opportunity to go out and really market the airport.”
At one time the airport was seeing some 28,000 passengers. Toward the end of US Airways’ tenure at Latrobe, Monzo says numbers were down to some 12,000.
The terminal was doubled in size to 50,000 square feet in 1998. Monzo says the airport wasn’t expecting a huge jump in traffic when it went ahead with the expansion, but it was “hopeful that we could get another carrier in here in addition to US Airways. But that didn’t happen. Something that did happen is the charter business has picked up.”
Latrobe has a strong and growing charter market, with the majority of flights being direct to Atlantic City. “That’s pretty exciting business,” he adds. “We’re also trying to develop that market more.” Currently, says Monzo, the airport sees some 7,000 charter enplanements annually.
Eastern Pittsburgh Market
Monzo says there are some 150,000 people just in a 10-mile radius of the airport, a catchment area he refers to as the Eastern Pittsburgh market. While only 60 miles from Pittsburgh International, the drive for passengers on a typical morning can range anywhere from two to three hours.
“The big thing is we’re not trying to compete with Pittsburgh,” says Monzo. “That would be foolish on our part. We’re just trying to provide better service to our community.” Westmoreland County alone has some 370,000 people, but Monzo adds that the airport pulls from neighboring counties as well.
Monzo and the airport staff, with the help of the Denver-based Boyd Group, are “beating the streets” to find other service, and not necessarily to Pittsburgh. “We could service another community; we could service another hub.”
Monzo says the airport has engaged in discussions with Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, and Continental, among others. “We’re looking at all the possibilities,” he adds.
The airport applied for and was successful in receiving a $600,000 Small Community Air Service Development (SCASD) grant in late August. LTB plans to use the funds for marketing and recruitment. According to Monzo, “We have the bait — it’s time to go fishing.”
One of the challenges facing LTB, says Monzo, is letting the community know that it’s still operating and that it’s actively seeking new service. The local media has partnered with the airport as part of its SCASD grant to provide in-kind contributions “toward getting the word out. Hopefully it will be the word that another airline’s on their way.”
Monzo says the airport contributes some $50 million to the local economy annually. “And a lot of that’s still present, even without US Airways.”
Other opportunities for growth exist at LTB, says Monzo, including more hangar space and improvements to local roadways allowing for easier access to the airport. Currently there are some 110 based aircraft at LTB, and some 40 individually owned T-hangars.
A current safety project involves adding 1,500 feet onto the runway, while taking some off from the other side, which will finish the runway at 8,225 feet. Explains Monzo, “The runway is too close to Route 30 for the safety area, so we’re taking some off from that side and adding to the other side.” This switch will increase the staging area for aircraft, he adds.
The 900-acre airport also is home to two FBOs, Vee Neal Aviation and L.J. Aviation; both offer charter service as well.
Westmoreland County Airport Authority also operates Rostraver Airport, some 30 miles south of LTB, which joined the airport authority in 1985. With 35,000-45,000 annual operations and a 4,000-foot runway, Monzo says the airport is strictly GA.
Monzo says the airport, being right on the border of Westmoreland and Allegheny counties, lends itself very well to the general aviation side. At some point, says Monzo, the airport authority would like to extend the runway to expand the capabilities at Rostraver.