By: Joseph Cress
Business Airport of Carlisle by the numbers
• An average of 67 flights per day for the 12-month period ending Dec. 8, 2010.
• 60 aircraft based on the field including 49 single engine airplanes, seven multi-engine airplanes, one jet airplane and three helicopters.
• 61 percent of airport operations is classified “local general aviation” while 33 percent is classified “transient general aviation.”
Economic impact of the Carlisle Airport
•Total jobs: 48
•Total payroll: $1.9 million
•Total economic output: about $7 million
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
Pilot Bryan Gembusia noticed the difference immediately upon his arrival at the Business Airport of Carlisle in South Middleton Township.
In March 2009, the township supervisor compared the facility off Petersburg Road to “landing on a toothpick” when he gave final approval to a plan to widen the runway from 40 feet to 60 feet. Since then, the private partnership that owns the airport not only completed that $1.1 million project, but installed an upgraded lighting system to improve visibility.
“It really came forward in usability and safety,” said Gembusia, recalling the first time he landed at Carlisle after the airport completed the projects. He is optimistic the recent release of the Carlisle Airport Feasibility Study will help preserve the last paved runway in Cumberland County.
While the Capital City Airport near New Cumberland is close to the border, it is actually located in Fairview Township, York County. The study shows having an airport in the Carlisle area is a benefit, Gembusia said. “It has a huge economic impact on our region.”
In June 2009, County Commissioner Gary Eichelberger asked the Cumberland Area Economic Development Board of Directors to assemble a task force of volunteers to study the airport and analyze how its economic impact can be maximized.
Process, not event
The task force would spend the next 20 months analyzing the existing infrastructure, identifying current and prospective needs and reviewing ways the airport could improve or expand its capabilities.
“Our goal in setting out was to pay more attention to the value of the airport as an economic driver,” Eichelberger said last week. “The report gives us good base level information going forward. What we don’t want to happen is for the study to sit on a shelf.”
Among the recommendations suggested in the study is to form a Carlisle Airport Business Advisory Board to interface with the Greater Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We want to vest this study somewhere where it gets a regular review,” Eichelberger said. “They will review it regularly, refresh the content or take further action on the recommendations. The study is a process, not an event.”
While current economic conditions limit growth potential at the airport, Eichelberger said the task force is optimistic about the future. “We’re in preservation mode. We know, at some point, there is more on the horizon when the economy recovers.”
Chamber President Michelle Crowley said the advisory board would probably meet after the first of the year with airport leadership to discuss possibilities going forward. She added one goal of the board would be to maintain close ties with the county and other groups interested in the airport’s future.
Aside from the board, the study recommended municipal leaders preserve favorable zoning around the airport that allows for future expansion, development or redevelopment. The study also suggested leaders form public-private sector partnerships that could leverage the economic benefits of tax credit/tax abatement programs.
South Middleton Township has already created an airport hazard zone that requires any new buildings within the flight path of the airport to abide by height restrictions, said Gembusia, a task force member. He added the township will do what it can to accommodate airport improvements while ensuring public safety.
Funding a challenge
A survey of the business travel community identified the need for a parallel taxiway at the Carlisle airport. Currently, arriving aircraft must turn around on the runaway and then “back taxi” to exit the runway. Departing aircraft, meanwhile, must taxi the length of the runway and then turn around on the runway prior to takeoff. The whole time, aircraft waiting to land must remain overhead in a holding pattern until the runway is clear.
The task force found that while current operations at the airport are conducted safely, a parallel taxiway would improve the ability of the airport to queue aircraft on the ground and give inbound flights the ability to safely land and quickly clear the runway after landing.
The study also noted how the Carlisle airport lacks ground transportation in the form of a rental car office or on-field taxi service. The task force found this shortcoming causes some in the business community to book flights through the Capital City Airport or Harrisburg International Airport.
“The study gives us a greater understanding of the Carlisle airport as a transportation asset for the county,” said Omar Shute, a task force member and the current executive director of the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation. “Knowing more about the opportunities and challenges is very valuable.”
Carlisle airport cannot receive federal funding because it is privately owned, said Jim Kingsborough, a partner in the Business Airport of Carlisle. He explained how publicly owned airports are eligible for up to 95 percent federal funding on improvement projects.
To widen the runway, Carlisle airport received 75 percent of its project funding from the state, but had to provide a 25 percent match, Kingsborough said. He added, without federal funding, Carlisle airport would not be able to afford a project to develop a parallel taxiway, additional hangers and a larger, more up-to-date terminal building.
A couple years ago, there was discussion of creating a publicly owned airport overseen by an authority board, Kingsborough said. Nothing ever came out of the talks.
“With government funding at this point, there are a lot of uncertainties,” Shute said. “You never know what the federal government will decide to do and how the funding levels could change.”
Source: Carlisle Sentinel