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Officials study, consider aviation service at listening event

Local leaders, community officials and other interested parties batted around ideas about improving aviation.

The event at Williamsport Regional Airport was one of several listening sessions being held by the Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee to gather information on the topic.

The local airport is among small community airports that remain without commercial traffic.

While that particular issue was briefly considered and alluded to, other topics were discussed at the nearly two-hour long session.

The study process, conducted in collaboration with PennDOT’s Bureau of Aviation, is part of implementing workable transportation solutions statewide.

Mark Murawski, co-chair, state Transportation Advisory Committee, said the intent of the study is to look at aviation from all aspects.

Commercial air service is just one component of the study, he said.

Among the areas being addressed are: funding for aviation improvements, advancing economic opportunity through aviation, preparing a workforce, and recommending policies that bolster the industry.

Williamsport Regional Airport Executive Director Richard Howell noted the shortage of pilots drives many of the issues plaguing aviation today.

He suggested coming up with a statewide training program to help solve that problem.

Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce President Robert Garrett noted that pilot training is simply cost-prohibitive for many people.

Howell noted that mechanics and air traffic controllers are also in short supply.

Partnering with the Department of Education to turn out more personnel for aviation jobs was suggested.

That prompted Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President Jason Fink to comment, “You are competing against all other industries.”

Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority President Frank Pellegrino said there is no reason why the local airport should not have commercial flights.

“We are an eight-county market. That’s a half million people,” he said. “We can fill it.”

Fink noted that the federal government should become more engaged in ensuring that the many states competing for air service realize their goals.

Murawski said leaders need to be involved in the process of prioritizing the pressing needs of aviation.

Lycoming County Commissioners Rick Mirabito noted that too often there exists a disconnect with communities and state policy makers.

For example, the Pennsylvania Wilds of Northcentral Pennsylvania have been promoted as a place for people to visit, but without help from the state to secure commercial air service, more people can’t visit the area.

“We have a great airport here,” he said. “I would try to figure out how we get airlines to serve community airports. That has to get the attention of policy makers.”

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