Money for airport improvements on the way to Pittsburgh region

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An infusion of nearly $2 million for improvements at three regional airports is on tap for this year.

The grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation are: $1.3 million for the Butler County Airport in Penn; $15,417 for the Zelienople Airport, which straddles the Butler and Beaver counties border; and $376,041 for the Beaver County Airport in Chippewa.

Butler County Airport manager Ivan Longdon said about $300,000 of the funding will be used for a feasibility study that will lay the foundation for a possible runway extension.

The runway extends 4,801 feet, and the airport authority would like to lengthen it to 5,500 feet. “It would make it perfect,” Mr. Longdon said. In 2005, the runway was increased by 800 feet.

The planned extension would not allow bigger aircraft to use the facility, but it would allow the biggest aircraft that currently use the site to carry heavier loads.

“Right now we’re restricted. The [biggest] designated aircraft that are allowed for this runway [10-passenger corporate jets] can’t take off with full loads of fuel due to weight restrictions [related to] the length of the runway,” Mr. Longdon said. Lengthening the runway boosts those weight limits.

He said he believes that change will spur even more growth at the already-bustling facility. Prior to the 2005 extension, the airport had had about 60,000 takeoffs and landings annually. As of this April, the figure is 72,000.

“We think another extension will attract more corporate business,” Mr. Longdon said, adding that he believes an extension also will increase safety.

“In the winter, sometimes the aircraft needs more stopping distance. In the summertime, the hotter the weather, the harder it is to take off because the air is thinner [so more length in the runway would be helpful],” he said.

The Butler County Airport plans to spend about $260,000 for land acquisition to increase what’s known as the airport’s “runway protection zone” — essentially, a buffer around the runway.

“Anytime that we have an opportunity to acquire land [around the runway,] we’re supposed to. It’s a safety issue and the FAA’s No. 1 priority,” he said. Three local landowners recently had contacted the authority, offering land. Mr. Longdon said that information was included in the airport’s grant application.

The balance of the grant money will be used for the third phase of an ongoing effort to widen a taxiway, which connects the plane hangar to the runway, and repair the pavement. 

Beaver County Airport Authority board vice chairman Dan Donatella said about $75,000 will be used to replace snow removal equipment. The balance of the grant will be used for obstruction removal, such as topping trees and removing vegetation near the flight path of the airport, which posts some 78,000 operations annually. He expects the work to be done late this year or early next year.

Zelienople Airport will install visual “glideslope” indicators to assist pilots in landing.

The grants were among 35 awards totaling $18 million in federal and state funds announced July 16 by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180.

Karen Kane: or at 724-772-9180.

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