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FAA paves way for possible airport sale

December 15, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Federal Aviation Administration has removed an obstacle to a possible sale of Chambersburg Municipal Airport to the authority that runs Harrisburg (Pa.) International Airport, according to an FAA official.

"Chambersburg's obligation to the federal government to operate the airport as an airport has expired," according to Wayne Heibeck, the manager of the FAA Harrisburg Airport District Office. "We are prepared to work with the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority to acquire Chambersburg Airport and provide federal funding for the acquisition costs of the airport."

When the borough announced earlier this year that it planned to get out of the airport business by the close of 2003, a question raised by airport supporters was whether Chambersburg would be required to repay the federal government for money it received to buy the land and make improvements to the facility, especially if the land were sold for use as something other than an airport.

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Borough officials have contended that the obligation to repay any money to the federal government ended in 2003, 20 years after the borough last accepted federal funds.

Heibeck said Sunday that the authority, known as SARAA, could be eligible to receive funding for up to 90 percent or 95 percent of the cost of acquiring the municipal airport. That funding, however, is dependent on passage of an omnibus spending bill by Congress, he said.

The federal spending package has been approved by the U.S. House, but has not been voted on by the Senate, Heibeck said.

A recent appraisal commissioned by the borough estimated the value of the 93-acre airport at $790,000.

"I don't know how they cannot afford to come up with 10 percent or even 5 percent" of the purchase cost, Councilman Allen Coffman said Sunday of the authority.

"If the money comes through the way they're hoping it comes through, there will be no strings attached," Borough Council President William McLaughlin said Sunday. "It looks more favorable than in the past."

"We're optimistic that will happen and the transfer will follow through," said Kathie Sides, a member of Friends of Chambersburg Area Airport, a group of pilots, businesses and area residents that have been fighting to keep the airport open.

"We've got our fingers crossed that no other obstacles get thrown up in the way," she said Sunday. She said there is at least one long-term lease agreement regarding a hangar yet to be resolved, but her understanding was that the borough will allow the airport to remain open while the transfer process is under way.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer and borough attorney Thomas Finucane last Tuesday did not rule out that the airport might be closed for a time to clear up some legal issues regarding leases.

Heibeck said FAA and authority officials will meet in the next few weeks to discuss further details of a possible acquisition.

"I don't feel the FAA has any desire to drag this out. I don't feel SARAA has any desire to drag this out," Sides said.

SARAA Chairman Eric R. Clancy said in October that the authority was "enthusiastic about the prospect" of acquiring the airport for general aviation purposes. In addition to Harrisburg International Airport, the authority also owns Capital City Airport, also in the Harrisburg area.

Sides told the council last Tuesday that the authority is sending an assessment team to inspect the airport and see what improvements it needs.

"After all these years of neglect, the runway needs to be repaved," she said.

"Paramount to everything is the condition of the strip. It could use some work," Coffman said of the 3,300-foot runway. Coffman said he also is anxious to see what long-range plans the authority has for the airport.

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