With 88 percent of residents in a 13-county area using airports other than the Williamsport Regional Airport, where there only are three daily departures and arrivals, the airport desperately needs a new terminal building to lower prices and increase airline diversity.
That was the message given by Mark Murawski, Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority chairman, after Thursday's Lycoming County Commissioners meeting, at which the commissioners approved a $3 million grant application in state funds for the new terminal building.
Next, the grant request will go to Harrisburg for approval, with the positive answer expected within six months. When the county receives the expected grant funds, it will pass funds to the airport authority to administer.
Murawski contends the $13 million project investment will reap many economic returns, and called it the most important public infrastructure project going on in the county.
"We have untold economic potential with this project," Murawski said.
Currently, the airport has three departures and three arrivals daily to Philadelphia. With that few of flights, is the project worth the investment?
"If we only ever have three flights a day like we do now, it won't be worth it. If you want the airport to grow and prosper, we must start with a better building. ... You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. That applies here.
"This area has potential for outstanding growth, but without a vibrant airport, that growth will never be realized," he continued.
The new building will provide a modern look and additional space for airline growth - which means lower prices and more destination choices, he said.
"If I don't do this, we're stuck with one airline, and they control all pricing and where we fly, which is only to Philadelphia," Murawski said. "That's why 88 percent of people who fly in this 13-county region use a different airport than this one. That's unacceptable."
If a new terminal building isn't built, that directly affects the community's economy, he said.
"If we don't have air service, we don't have an economically healthy community. This is fundamental to business operations," Murawski said.
He said more than half of the airport's services serve the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry, and it also is used heavily by other businesses.
In other business, the commissioners approved:
Professional service agreements with the following for the Juvenile Probation office: Susquehanna House, Crossroads, Glen Mills, PATH, Cornell Abraxas and Ray McGinnis. Almost all costs have gone up with the new contracts.
An agreement with Pennsylvania College of Technology for $35,000 in Act 13 funds to be used for emergency response training in the natural gas arena for those who respond to emergencies in Lycoming County.
An agreement with Anadarko Petroleum to use power lines for a state tower on Shriver's Ridge, Lewis Township, for Anadarko Asset Safety System, a communication infrastructure that further enhances the company's ability to monitor its assets remotely. This is at no cost to the county.
A letter of intent for participation in the PEMA 911 Shared Service study for potential funding eligibility of $35,000. This would enable the county to ascertain what services can be shared with other counties to assist in 911 operations.