Officials Show Off Erie, Pa., Airport to Legislators

Aug. 11--Officials put Erie International Airport's best foot forward Wednesday, hoping they were moving the airport closer to getting its proposed international trade center.

Airport Executive Director Kelly Fredericks told a visiting group of state legislators that in the four years since 9/11, Erie International Airport has been a state leader in attracting air service, creating jobs and increasing the economic impact it has on the community. "But we have done this with one hand tied behind our back ...without two essential projects we need -- the 1,900-foot extension of our runway, and an international trade center," Fredericks said.

The legislators were members of the Commission on the Future of Transportation Entities, a bipartisan group of state House members who are evaluating the operations and future needs of Pennsylvania airports. Four members of the group made the trip to Erie.

"We want to see how (airports) are doing. We want to see what they are doing that is good, and what can be improved," said state Rep. Ron Raymond of Ridley Park, R-162nd Dist. and the commission chairman. "Some of them are outstanding operations, and I think this is one of those."

Raymond said the information will help make policymakers aware of the needs of airports and avoid a "one size fits all" approach to legislation.

Local officials hoped that the visit would also help convince legislators of the value of the international trade center.

The said the center is a vital element in plans to develop Erie International's cargo handling capacity and the economic links and, ultimately, cargo flights that local officials hope to establish with the Cottbus-Drewitz Airport in eastern Germany.

Airport officials first asked the state for $5 million to build a $12.6 million international trade center, but have since scaled down that request to $2.5 million to build a $5 million center.

In highlighting the airport's success, Fredericks pointed out Erie was the third fastest-growing airport in the nation for passenger service in 2004 and punctuated his comments with the announcement that Continental Connection airline CommuteAir plans to add one more daily flight from Erie to Cleveland on Sept. 14.

Fredericks pointed to a report in the Pennsylvania Air Service Monitor, a state publication that showed the airport's economic effect on Erie's economy grew by $51.2 million in 2004 and that air service created 112 new jobs in 2004 and was indirectly responsible for creating 447 new jobs that year.

Local officials explained the runway project is moving forward -- environmental clearance that will allow construction is expected by Oct. 14 and a groundbreaking will come soon afterward.

But the international trade center, which could create 250 jobs and preserve 50 others, is still waiting for state funding to come through. The jobs preserved would be at Erie Aviation International, an airport-based airplane parts and repair business under pressure from its suppliers to move into more modern quarters -- in Erie or elsewhere.

Local officials testifying on the importance of the airport and its runway extension and trade center were Erie City Councilwoman Rubye Jenkins-Husband; Robert Spaulding, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership; Erie Aviation CEO Harry Stazewski; Dan Adamus, CEO of Strategic Marketing Solutions; and Bill Patterson, CEO of Patterson-Erie Corp. and North Coast Aviation.

Raymond said he was impressed by the community support behind the airport, and some of its "exciting" plans.

Fredericks said he was pleased with the legislative visit and the boost it could give to the international trade center.

"It has been a very good day for the airport," he said.