Passengers bit by winter's chill as they board planes at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport could be kept out of the cold this time next year by an enclosed walkway that officials think also may attract more airlines.
As part of $2.35 million in capital projects reviewed on Tuesday, the Westmoreland County Airport Authority is looking to install a $526,316 passenger loading bridge at the Unity Township airport. Currently, getting between terminal and aircraft for thousands of ticketholders for charter flights or the daily flights to Detroit means walking outside and boarding the plane by stairs.
Authority Executive Director Gene Lakin said the loading bridge and the other discussed projects are necessary additions as the airport continues to evolve as a transportation hub.
"We promote ourselves as a convenient facility. It's easy access and free parking," he said. "It's a good selling point for an airline that wants to come into your market."
Starting last April, passengers could fly from Arnold Palmer airport to link up with Northwest Airlines' domestic and international flights leaving Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Michigan. Lakin said airport officials have been interested in hosting similar services to other areas.
According to the latest numbers, 1,097 passengers flew from Latrobe to Detroit in November. Airport Manager Gabe Monzo said the number appears to be leveling off for the winter season.
September was the strongest month this year for the Detroit flights, bringing in 1,404 passengers.
In addition to the Northwest traffic, chartered flights generate business from roughly 7,000 passengers a year, Monzo said.
Having the enclosed walkway also would enhance security and benefit those who need physical assistance boarding the airplanes, Lakin said.
"You keep people out of the elements," authority Chairman John Finfrock added.
Federal funding is expected to cover 95 percent of the costs for each of the seven projects discussed yesterday. State funding is expected to cover 2.5 percent, leaving the authority's share of the $2.35 million to be $61,980.
In addition to the loading bridge, the authority is planning to:
Rehabilitate the access road, parking lot and air-traffic control tower at Arnold Palmer airport.
Purchase an ice-removal vehicle for Arnold Palmer airport and snow-removal equipment for Rostraver Airport.
Build a 300-foot runway safety area at Rostraver Airport.
Expand the main apron and lighting at Rostraver Airport.
In other business, Monzo said the annual safety inspection performed by the Federal Aviation Administration showed two deficiencies, one of which already has been fixed.
A fuel truck recently painted was not outfitted with "no smoking" signs during the inspection, but Monzo said the signs are now up. The inspector also wanted the authority to install placards under runway stop signs telling drivers to radio the control tower before proceeding. Monzo said the placards are on order.
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