Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Erie Airport Runway

Curious juxtaposition today of the two Times-News editorials. On top was this one calling for $80 million in government funding to extend the runway at the Erie Airport. Below it was this article complaining that the state is wasting $.5 million polling taxpayers to find out their opinions. What's that old saying about the forrest and the trees?

We've had some discussion here about whether this runway extension is really worth the money, and another blogger has asked for a cost-justification study on the matter. The airport Web site actually has a special section on the runway extension project. There, I was able to find the FAA's 2005 report that explains why the runway extension would have no significant impact on the environment and surrounding area.

This is great, and this study seems to be the charter that the Airport Authority is using to push the project ahead. However, there is a line item in the report regarding funding: "Prior to any funding decision concerning the proposed project, determination under 49 U.S.C. § 44502(b) that the airport development is reasonably necessary for use in air commerce or in the interests of national defense." It seems to me like this could be the hold-up that the Times is blaming the FAA for. After all, have we indeed determined the necessity of this project? I don't recall seeing many detailed arguments saying why the extension is "necessary" for air commerce and national defense." Maybe that's all the stuff Phil English is doing behind the scenes...

One thing I can say from reading the report, is that the necessity of the project has apparently evolved from being driven by a desire to increase passenger traffic, to a desire to increase cargo traffic. The whole extension seems to be based around being able to fly DC-9 jets in and out of Erie. But, I guess with passenger traffic dropping from over 180,000 in 2005 to around 160,000 in 2006, there doesn't seem to be much necessity for accomodating increasing passenger traffic. This trend apparently was obvious as far back as 2005, because the report makes mention of changing the "critical aircraft design" for the runway extension from accomodating DC-9 passenger jets to DC-9 cargo jets.

So great, now we just need to determine what that cargo is and where it will be coming from, in order to cost-justify an investment of $80 million, minus, of course, whatever investment is being made for national security purposes. Apparently Erie Aviation has done some research on this topic. Maybe I just missed it when they published their findings. However, I suspect with the runway project at such a critical juncture, as reported in the Times today, some of the cost -justifcation findings will be showing up in the news again. I'm looking forward to seeing them.




Anonymous said...

I read in the Times that the 900' first phase extension is needed to meet updated FAA safety standards. The extra length is to be able to attract more service and more planes. One of the reasons the passenger count has dropped has been a reduction in service due to airlines cutting service nationwide. Erie doesn't even fly to Pittsburgh anymore! A lot of airplanes leave/arrive ERI partially empty, especially in the winter, because our short runway doesn't give them the space to have a safe takeoff/landing. If I was an airline exec I wouldn't fly to an airport where I can't fill my plane with passengers.

I believe that Erie International has a potential market. Before the recent cutbacks it was the fastest growing airport in PA, and the 3rd largest.

Ralph said...

One thing I'll say, is that most of the flights I take coming into and going out of Erie are at least three-quarters full, which often surprises me.