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Questions cloud Chambersburg Airport's future

July 30, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Franklin County is studying a request to form a municipal authority to take over Chambersburg Municipal Airport, but county officials say many questions will have to be answered before a group of airport supporters gets an answer.

Last week the Franklin County Commissioners referred the request from Friends of Chambersburg Area Airport to its fiscal and planning departments, as well as to its legal counsel.

A municipality must determine the need for an authority, then hold a public hearing before adopting a resolution, filing articles of incorporation and appointing officers, according to the Pennsylvania's Municipal Authorities Act.

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Commissioner Bob Thomas said Tuesday a decision to form an authority has to be based on a demonstrated need for the airport and sound economics.

"I don't have a clue of what the financial implications are of forming an authority," Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said.

The letter, signed by 40 members of the airport group, states that an authority could access federal and state grants to expand and improve the airport and would not be a burden on local taxpayers.

The letter also stated the airport contributes about $500,000 a year to the area economy, employs 30 people either full or part time, and has an economic impact beyond the businesses at the 93-acre facility.

There are four businesses at the airport - two for aircraft maintenance, the Chambersburg Skydiving Center and a cafe.

"Small airports are never a huge moneymaking proposition, but many can become successful and generate substantial income," the petition stated. It can boost economic development because businesses want to locate in close proximity to airports, according to the petition.

That was the reasoning three decades ago when Chambersburg built the airport, according to Borough Manager Eric Oyer, but a transportation study done about a dozen years ago determined "the airport has not been significant to the economic development of the area."

The proximity of Hagerstown Regional Airport lessened the value of Chambersburg's airport to the local economy, Oyer said. The loss several years ago of a flight detachment serving Letterkenny Army Depot also hurt airport revenues, he said.

J.R. Sides, the owner of Chambersburg Skydiving Center and a leader of the airport supporters, manages the airport, which has no borough employees. The airport does not cost the borough much to operate - the budget is $25,000 for this year - but Chambersburg has put more than $1 million into it since 1970, Oyer said.

During that time, the airport cost $923,628 for maintenance and operations, while generating $326,308 in rental revenues, according to borough figures.

Federal and state grants to build and improve the airport between 1968 and 1983 totaled $720,500, with local matching funds coming to $130,000, according to borough records.

Oyer said the borough has not received final word from the Federal Aviation Administration as to whether it must repay any grant funds if the airport closes. The borough did not apply for any subsidies after 1983 with the understanding that its obligation to repay previous grants ended in 2003, he said.

The airport's appraised value was $585,000 in 1997, according to borough figures.

If the airport is sold, the borough plans to use the money for street reconstruction in 2005 and 2006 as part of a five-year, $2.5 million public works program, Oyer said.

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