Council puts plan to sell Pa. airport in motion

June 29, 2004|by DON AINES

Chambersburg Municipal Airport will close permanently at midnight July 27 but the same runway will be back in operation under new management 24 hours later.

On Monday night, the Chambersburg Borough Council voted to authorize the preparation and advertisement of an ordinance to sell the airport to the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, or SARAA. The proposed ordinance would sell the 93-acre airport to the authority for $790,000.

Last month, Pennsylvania's U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum announced that a $750,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration had been approved for the authority to use toward the purchase of the airport.


"Congratulations on the success of your efforts to keep the airport operating as an airport," Councilman Ken Gill told J.R. and Kathie Sides, Dale Forrester and other supporters of the airport.

Last year, the council stated it intended to sell the airport by the end of 2003, which coincided with the end of any obligation the borough had to repay federal grants used to purchase the land, construct and improve the airport.

The prospective deal with SARAA, which owns and runs Harrisburg International Airport and Capital Cities Airport, also in Harrisburg, Pa., appears to benefit all sides, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said last month. The borough will use the money it receives for street projects scheduled in 2004-05; the airport will be run by an entity with experience in the field and the businesses there will continue to operate.

Oyer said Monday night that the airport's name will change but that the SARAA had not told the borough what it will be called.

"It needs to be in the hands of someone who knows airports," said Kathie Sides, who owns Chambersburg Skydiving Center with her husband.

"We're going to have a long-term commitment to keep an airport in Franklin County, not a day-to-day battle," J.R. Sides said.

The transfer of ownership also will mean improvements to the airport, according to J.R. Sides. "It will be kept up like an airport should be," he said.

There are plenty of improvements that need to be made, the couple said. The asphalt of the 3,300-foot runway and ramp is falling apart, hangar roofs leak and the public restrooms are "one step above a tree," J.R. Sides said.

SARAA also is planning upgrades to navigational aids, lighting and other capital improvements that will attract more business to the airport, which was built more than three decades ago and is located north of Chambersburg in Greene Township.

"This airport still has a lot of room for expansion," J.R. Sides said. While set up to accommodate a runway of up to 5,000 feet, he said the deteriorating facility has more immediate needs.

Kathie Sides said the borough could have applied for up to $150,000 a year in federal airport maintenance funds but chose not to in order to end its federal obligation.

SARAA, J.R. Sides said, has the expertise to access federal aviation funds and make the needed improvements. He said the airport serves as another port of entry for the county, "just like another exit off of Interstate 81."

Forrester said the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation estimates the number of takeoffs and landings there at 13,000 a year, a number he expects will grow.

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