Pa. airport to shut down for runway repairs

March 30, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Skydiving Center will continue dropping customers off several thousand feet above the Franklin County Regional Airport over the next three weeks, although the company will be picking them up at other area airports while the first major work is done on the facility since being purchased two years ago by the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority.

"These guys have come on board and done exactly what they said they'd do," J.R. Sides said of SARAA, which in July 2004 took over what had been Chambersburg Municipal Airport. Sides, who owns Chambersburg Skydiving Center with his wife, Kathie, said he is excited the airport runway and taxiways will be getting a much-needed makeover, even though flight operations will be closed from Monday to Friday, April 21.

Valley Quarries Inc. of Chambersburg won the $478,000 contract to repair and repave the 3,300-foot runway and taxiways, SARAA spokesman Scott Miller said.


"This thing went quite a lot of time without the repairs it needed," Sides said. "The runway was in a crumbling condition."

"The runway's a mess. It's safe, but it's not in good shape," Miller said Wednesday. Cracks and other defects will be repaired and then capped with 2 inches of new asphalt, as well as new markings, Miller said.

In late 2004, SARAA hired a consultant to "look at everything at the airport from top to bottom" and develop an action plan, Miller said. The runway was the obvious priority.

"If you can't land and take off, you really don't have an airport," he said.

Miller said some private aircraft that had been based at the airport have moved to others in the region over the years and the improvements should attract owners back to the airport in Greene Township.

The improvements will make the airport more viable for recreational fliers and could attract corporate fliers doing business with nearby Letterkenny Army Depot and other area businesses, Franklin County Area Development Corp. President L. Michael Ross said.

SARAA, which owns and operates Harrisburg Regional Airport and Capital City Airport, also plans to improve the apron where planes are parked and tied down, buildings and fences in the future, Miller said. The authority also wants to establish a fixed base operator - a facility to fuel aircraft, something the airport does not currently have, he said.

Miller said the airport has about 12,000 to 13,000 takeoffs and landings a year and Sides said his company does the majority of them. Skydivers will continue to jump over the airport while the work is done, but the takeoffs and landings will occur elsewhere, he said.

"It's one of the busiest skydiving centers in the northeast," Miller said.

"This is what we fought for," said Sides who, along with other aviation business owners and pilots, contested Chambersburg's plans to close the airport it owned for more than three decades. "Once you close an airport, you never get it reopened," he said.

The borough for several years indicated it planned to get out of the airport business before SARAA bought it for about $800,000. Miller said 95 percent of the runway repair money is from the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program with the balance from SARAA.

The Airport Improvement Program is funded primarily by fees on tickets and taxes on aviation fuel, Miller said.

"It's not taxpayer dollars ... If you don't fly, you don't contribute to it," he said.

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