Penn State Airport Closer to Control Tower

Mar. 11--In as little as two years, the University Park Airport could lose its title as the busiest commercial service airport without its own control tower.

Airport Director Bryan Rodgers said progress has been made securing funding for a $5 million air-traffic control tower. The hope is to design the tower in winter 2007-08 and put it out for bid in early 2008. Rodgers said it could take about a year to build.

"We've made great progress. We have a funding plan in place. There's still quite a bit of work yet to do, and all the pieces are not there," Rodgers said. But, he added, there have been "great strides in the past few months here at the airport and with the (Federal Aviation Administration.)"

He said certain funding sources need to come through, and he is "encouraged" that they will. He could not elaborate on what the sources are.

Betsey Howell, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a control tower would benefit tourism in the region.

"We want our visitors not only to be safe, but to feel safe," she said.

Rodgers said of about 120 airports served by Comair, a Delta Air Lines subsidiary, University Park is the only one without a control tower. For now, controllers in New York direct traffic.

He said the number of passengers increased about 200 percent between 1985 and 2005. Traffic has steadily increased with growth in the area. Rodgers said the airport is very safe, but the control tower will enhance the airport's safety.

"For the volume and variety of aircraft we see here, a control tower is a necessity," he said.

It will mean new rules, including making communications between aircraft and the control tower mandatory. The project also will include a $2 million instrument landing system.

Rodgers said the airport has submitted a study to the FAA on the preferred site of the 90-feet-tall tower in a grassy area near the parking lot. The airport is working with the FAA to get that site reviewed this summer.

Rodgers said he couldn't comment on funding sources for the $7 million project. But, in general, the airport gets funding from FAA grants, the state Bureau of Aviation and a $4.50 passenger fee.

"We've been at it for nearly three years," Rodgers said. "It's a project we continue to be excited about. We're going to be glad when we see that shovel in the ground. It's what this airport needs. It's what this region needs. It will have a great economic impact on the region."

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