You only get one chance to make a first impression. For visitors using the Williamsport Regional Airport, that first impression probably isn't very good.
During a news conference on Thursday, airport officials vowed to change that.
They announced plans to build a new combined airport terminal and air traffic control tower just east of the airport's current terminal and tower.
An exterior view of the Williamsport Regional Airport terminal taken from the runway side of the building.
The project, which preliminary estimates put at $13 million, will be completed by the end of 2013, airport authority Chairman Mark Murawski.
Murawski said the location of the press conference outside the terminal in the baggage area was to highlight how antiquated the building, which was built in 1947, has become. The baggage area consists of two roll-up doors through which baggage handlers manually place luggage into the pickup area inside the building.
Murawski called the baggage-handling system "Wilbur and Orville Wright kind of stuff."
The facility has been renovated over the years but has problems with its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, electric and plumbing and roof, airport Executive Director Thomas Hart said.
The exterior of the building is deteriorated, Hart said.
It would cost millions of dollars to upgrade the current facility, Murawski said, but even then it would not meet the air service needs created by the region's projected growth over the next 20 years.
Significant improvements have been made to the airport's runways, taxiways and safety areas, Hart said. Now it is time to upgrade the terminal, he said, adding that the current terminal is "very unappealing."
Both Murawski and county Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland said the airport is the front door to Williamsport, Lycoming County and the region. It is important that the door be as appealing as possible, they said.
Wheeland said prospective employees flying to the area for a job interview, or corporate officials seeking a place to expand into could have second thoughts about moving here if they were unimpressed by their first view of the area.
"Now if the time to give the proper first impression to guests we invite into the place we call Lycoming County, our home," he said.
Support for the project were pledged by City Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Vincent Matteo, state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, and state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport.
"It's important to improve service not only in the air, but on the ground," Matteo said.
Montoursville Mayor John Dorin spoke wistfully of the bygone days of the airport and events such as the air shows and balloon festivals that were held there.
Dorin said he saw an old postcard depicting the airport terminal on eBay that sold for $2.75. The value of the post card did not reflect how valuable the facility has been to the region, Dorin said.
However, "the time has come to say goodbye to a stellar facility," Dorin added.
Also speaking in support of the project were Frank G. Pelligrino, executive vice president at Primus Technologies Corp., and Brian Wilson, Halliburton district manager for northern Pennsylvania.
Both men spoke of the airport's importance to their businesses and the employees who work for them.
The airport's impact on the region's entire economy is about $50 million a year, Murawski said.
A new, modern airport facility will help the economy to continue to grow, he said. That may include bringing one or more new commercial carriers to the airport, he said.
Building a new terminal will not guarantee another carrier will come to the airport, but not building one will guarantee another carrier will not come to the airport, he said.
According to Murawski, proposals from architectural and engineering firms will be sought. During a meeting following the press conference, the authority agreed to advertise for proposals.
A firm will be chosen and then needs assessment will be performed to determine what type of facility can accommodate the region's future needs, he said.
Following the design of that facility, the project will be bid with the goal of completing it in December 2013, he said.
Murawski said he is confident a funding package from state and federal sources can be obtained for the project.
"The money is not going to be a barrier for us," he said.
Wheeland appeared skeptical the project could be completed so quickly. Murawski admitted the project was on an "aggressive schedule," but vowed it would be completed by the end of next year.