Airport terminal building pushed back until 2016

Originally scheduled to be completed at the end of this year, Williamsport Regional Airport Authority officials said Thursday that plans for a new terminal building have been pushed back more than 2 1/2 years due to mandated Federal Aviation Administration environmental reviews.

A new $13.6 million airport terminal building still is on the drawing board, but the project received a setback when the FAA required environmental studies on the proposed site, according to Mark Murawski, authority chairman.

“It basically cost us two years,” he said.

A new time line indicates that a new terminal would be open by October 2016.

“The good news is we have their assurance this new schedule is something that they can work with us to meet,” Murawski said of the FAA’s requirements. “I expect no further slippage. The public can be confident the new terminal building will be open in 2016.”

Airport officials, Lycoming County commissioners, state legislators, local elected officials and business leaders were present last June for the announcement of a new terminal building. They said the need was clear for a more modern and efficient terminal building to replace the 66-year-old structure.

Murawski said that the authority did not expect the project to be included in an FAA environmental review because it is proposed on already disturbed land.

“They’ve decided it goes to a level higher,” he said.

The actual design of the new facility cannot be finalized until the environmental assessment is done, according to Murawski. Construction now is planned to start at the beginning of October 2015 and finish a year later.

Murawski, while disappointed, said that government environmental reviews are “stringent and time consuming.”

“Any kind of transportation project sees those kinds of time frames,” he added.

The extra time provides more opportunity to secure funding for the project, said Thomas J. Hart, authority executive director.

Funding now consists of $1 million Act 13 money for the FAA environmental assessment and facility design; $1.4 million in passenger facility charges, which are added to all airline tickets; and $1.2 million from a prior Federal Highway Administration earmark that initially was to be used for a new airport access road.

In addition, the airport is eligible to apply for $3 million from the state Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program and a loan through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank, which is administered by the state Department of Transportation, Murawski said.

He said that Gov. Tom Corbett’s March 26 visit to the airport to discuss the county’s use of Act 13 funding underscores his interest in seeing the completion of the new terminal project.

Murawski added that a new facility would accommodate three times the present number of enplanements – up to 75,000 a year – and two additional airlines while meeting the airport’s long-term space needs.

Meanwhile, the airport’s control tower, which is staffed by non-FAA contracted employees, still is slated to be closed on Sept. 30 unless funding is released from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The authority filed an appeal with the FAA after federal spending cuts caused the closure of 149 towers on April 7. The local tower is one of 16 across the country that operates under a cost-sharing agreement that will keep it open at least until Sept. 29.

“We’ve made a compelling case with the appeal we’ve filed,” said Murawski.

He said the authority believes the tower should remain open because of the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling activity, changeable weather patterns and unique geography and increased air traffic during the Little League Baseball World Series.

Murawski said that the area’s Congressional delegation of U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, Bob Casey, D-Scranton and Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station, support keeping the local tower in operation.

“They get how important it is to the area,” he said.