Businessmen work to preserve airport

June 02, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Though overcast skies kept Don Shoop from flying Sunday afternoon, he showed up at Chambersburg Municipal Airport just to hang out.

"It's part of our life. It's part of our way of living," Shoop said, who's operated his flying service out of the 27-year-old airport for nearly 15 years.

Now threatened with closing by Chambersburg officials who say it's too expensive to operate, Shoop and five other local businessmen recently formed the Chambersburg Airport Redevelopment Committee to try to persuade Franklin County Commissioners and the public that the airport is needed and has a lot of potential.


"It's almost inconceivable for a town as nice as Chambersburg not to have a well-functioning airport," Shoop said, who serves as committee secretary.

The thrust of the committee is twofold - to save the airport and to improve it.

"We're not just interested in preserving the airport. We want to see it expand and grow," Shoop said.

Owned and operated by Chambersburg Borough, the airport has been operating in the red since 1993 with a projected loss this year of $15,000, according to Eric Oyer, borough manager.

"For a number of years we've been interested in getting out of the airport business," Oyer said, though they don't want to see it close.

The borough is responsible for maintaining the 95-acre property, which sits in Greene Township five miles north of downtown Chambersburg off of U.S. 11. That includes keeping the grass moved and the snow plowed, upkeep of the water and sewer systems, maintaining the asphalt runway and lights, and other general duties, Oyer said.

Borough officials want to talk first to agencies interested in buying the property with the intent of operating the airport, he said.

The answer may lie in upcoming discussions with neighboring Cumberland, Adams and Fulton Counties about the possibility of turning it into a regional aiport.

"We felt that was the best way to go," Shoop said.

A regional airport would mean taxes and liability could be spread over a broader base and the airport would remain eligible for state and federal funds, Shoop said.

The investment proved to be too costly for a group that considered buying the property and turning it into a private airport, Shoop said.

The uncontrolled airport, meaning there is air traffic control, needs improvements to make it competitive, Shoop said.

One of the priorities would be to have fuel available, Shoop said. The airport also needs more hangars and could use a taxiway and a larger parking area for airplanes, he added.

Though it functions with the bare minimum, Chambersburg Airport sees a lot of action.

Thousands of people from all over the world come to the airport as patrons of Advanced Aero Sports, a professional skydiving instruction business based there.

Last Monday, skydiving instructors and pilots took up 21 loads with more than 200 jumps. On a nice day, the business averages 30 or 40 air loads and has instructed as many as 60 students in one day.

"We bring a lot of business to this airport which certainly supports the community," said Jim Donivan, chief skydiving instructor, adding that skydivers often stay in Chambersburg for weekends, using its hotels, restaurants and other local businesses.

Several businessmen, real estate agents, doctors and pleasure pilots fly in to the airport every day, Shoop said.

Despite results from a 1989 feasibility study conducted by a firm in New York which determined that the airport will not be significant to the economic and business development of the community, the committee contends that government officials should take a closer look at the opportunity.

With the land around the airport zoned industrial, and the county's plans to acquire 1,500 acres of land from the Letterkenny Army Depot, Shoop said there's too much potential in the airport's future to let it go.

"It's in a good location. There's very little encroachment. This airport will be used in the future," he said.

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