Westmoreland airport authority adds staff before Spirit Airlines debut

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Dec. 15--Westmoreland County Airport Authority officials are preparing for Spirit Airlines' arrival at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in February by hiring extra staff and making improvements to the terminal.

Authority board members approved three contracts for terminal improvements at Tuesday's meeting and heard about ongoing interviews for the staff members needed to run the low-cost carrier's flights out of the Unity-based facility.

Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., will offer four nonstop flights per week from the Unity airport to its hub at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport starting Feb. 12. In May, the airline will begin offering seasonal service to Myrtle Beach.

Officials have said the deal will save the airport authority from losing $1 million in annual federal entitlement funding. The funding was endangered after Northwest Airlines discontinued daily service in July 2009, causing the airport to fall below the minimum 10,000 passengers per year to qualify for the funding.

But in order to bring Spirit's service to Arnold Palmer, several projects need to be undertaken to upgrade the airport.

The board approved a contract with Derry Construction for $81,100 to reseal and reline the airport's parking lot, adding about 85 spaces in the process. The company also will re-mark the apron where aircraft are loaded and unloaded to accommodate Spirit's larger plane. That project will cost $3,500. Modifications needed to the passenger-loading bridge will be made by Florida-based Aero Associates for $11,281.

Other work and equipment purchases will be needed to complete the project, said Dwayne Pickels, administrative assistant for the airport authority.

The contracts are pending state approval because a state grant of $168,750 will pay for most of the improvements, Pickels said. The authority is responsible for $56,250.

Jeff Minkovich, who was hired last month as the authority's liaison with Spirit Airlines, told the board he was in the process of hiring the 10 employees needed to launch the operation. One employee has been hired thus far, with a number of interviews scheduled, Minkovich said.

Pickels said a final figure for what the personnel additions will cost the authority has not been determined.

Minkovich said he is planning an inaugural flight event on Feb. 12, when the first Spirit flight is to depart Arnold Palmer. He said details are still being finalized, but the event probably will run from about 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The first flight is scheduled to depart about 5:35 p.m. that day.

"I'm looking for a very enjoyable relationship between the authority and the airline and making it very special for the community," Minkovich said.

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