Pennsylvania Airport Underused, Officials Told

Nov. 14--Not only is the 60-year-old Kutztown Airport worth keeping open, a consultant told Kutztown and Maxatawny Township officials, but establishing an airport authority to own and operate it would help boost the area's economy.

"One of the Top 10 reasons for companies to locate or stay in a region is a strong generalaviation airport," consultant Fran F. Strouse told officials at a joint meeting. "The airport is one of your economic gems that's grossly overlooked.

"If it closes, it's gone forever, but its future actually is very exciting."

Officials said a joint airport authority may be considered in the future. Kutztown Borough Manager Jaymes A. Vettraino noted that the process still is in an information-gathering stage.

Strouse reviewed a $35,000 feasibility study that included an analysis of alternate sites and a possible reconfiguration of the airfield. The study was partly funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aviation.

The airport, along Kutztown Road just outside the borough, has a 2,400-foot-long paved runway and a wide grass airstrip.

Earl W. Binder, who has operated the site for nearly 26 years, said the airfield accommodates about 40,000 takeoffs and landings annually and generates more than $500,000 for the local economy.

Nicholas E. Prikis, who owns the 70-acre tract, has been renewing the airport's lease only month-by-month since its previous 12-year lease expired in June.

"This site could be a premier aviation facility," said Strouse, a senior technical manager for airport planning and design with L. Robert Kimball & Associates, Harrisburg.

In addition to being a fullservice facility, the airport property could include business centers, corporate hangars, a terminal and a transportation museum, Strouse said.

"It's a feather in your hat that Lehigh Valley Hospital recently based a medical evacuation helicopter here, something other airports would kill for," he said.

Also, Strouse outlined possible options such as shifting the runway southward and lengthening it to 3,500 feet to serve larger aircraft. Two other options involve rotating the north-south runway to an east-west axis.

"Topographically and from a development point for both communities, it's the most ideal location for an airstrip," he said. "But that's going to have to be a business decision on your part, not just an emotional one to preserve the site."

An airport authority, he said, would be eligible to receive funding from the state budget and from aviation development grants; have bonding capabilities for public investment; be able to acquire property by eminent domain; and reduce operating and maintenance costs.

Strouse outlined steps for forming an authority, including appointing a board with expertise in areas such as finance, law, real estate, management, construction and aviation.

Strouse asked officials to rank the various options and alternatives so an airport master plan can be created.