Erie Airport Still Hopes to Create an All Cargo Center

Mar. 27--Erie airport officials are still assessing the breakdown of talks to acquire a German airport, but they said the apparent end of those negotiations doesn't dim their plans for an air cargo center in Erie.

"It doesn't change that," Erie International Airport Executive Director Kelly Fredericks said. "We still think we can increase our cargo numbers significantly."

Until March 12, the airport and its private sector partner, Erie Aviation Inc., planned to develop an International Trade Center cargo handling facility in Erie. Part of that plan included acquiring the Cottbus-Drewitz Airport in eastern Germany to develop a similar cargo center there and then eventually link them with direct transatlantic cargo flights.

But on March 12, the owners of the airport in the German state of Brandenburg abruptly broke off talks after five years of work and two years of negotiations.

"We are still baffled, stunned, flabbergasted ... at how everything broke down in the end," said Erie Aviation President Harry Staszewski. "We hope some day to figure it out, but right now we have not figured it out."

Dan Adamus, the consultant who served as project manager for Erie Aviation, declined to say much about the project.

"It's just time to let the dust settle," he said.

Fredericks and Adamus said that from the beginning, the idea was to develop the trade centers independently -- each serving their own region and neither one dependent on the other to be a success.

A subsidiary of Erie Aviation would acquire and run the German airport. The Erie Municipal Airport Authority would get a minority ownership share and be paid for consulting services. Fredericks said the Erie airport budgeted about $30,000 in anticipated revenue from the project for the current year.

Erie handled about 701 tons of air cargo in 2005. Airport officials were projecting to move about 24,000 tons of cargo a year once the German airport was up and running. Without the German component, Fredericks said, the airport is unlikely to meet that goal.

However, Erie International should still be capable of reaching 15,000 to 20,000 tons a year, he said.

The airport is continuing to work with Virginia-based Eclat Consulting to find ways to increase air cargo shipments within the next few years, much the same way that the airport increased passenger traffic since 2001.

Adamus said the experience and industry contacts made in working on the German project would also help Erie airport officials and Erie Aviation in the development of cargo capacity at home.

Fredericks, meanwhile, said he personally still has not given up hope that the German project might be restarted.

"I am not trying to raise false hopes," Fredericks said, "But personally, I am not convinced this thing is dead yet. ... I still hope that somehow it can be resurrected."

Fredericks said the project previously hit stalemates two or three times over the course of negotiations.

"I have certainly learned never to say never," Fredericks said.

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