November 5, 2011
By David Thompson
Lycoming County and the surrounding region’s economy depends on a commercial airport.
That is the message behind a state Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation report that shows the Williamsport Regional Airport, and other commercial and general aviation airports statewide, pump millions of dollars into local economies.
“Our airport plays an extremely vital role in the regional economy,” said Mark Murawski, chairman of the Williamsport Regional Airport Authority.
“We serve 13 counties in our service area, not just Lycoming County,” he added. “Without the airport, that would be a significant blow to our economic development.”
Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President Vincent Matteo agreed.
“Without the airport, you would have seen growth in the Marcellus Shale (gas industry), but not to the extent that it has grown,” Matteo said. “I think it is very important to economic development, and not just for natural gas. Other companies need it, as well.”
According to the report, the Williamsport airport, which is one of 15 commercial airports in the state, impacts more than 700 jobs that account for more $22.5 million in payroll and almost $70 million in economic activity.
Statewide, those numbers are 296,000, $8.8 billion and $22.3 billion, respectively.
There are 116 general aviation airports in the state. Those airports account for 304,000 jobs, $9.1 billion in payroll and $23.6 billion in economic activity.
General aviation airports typically are smaller airports that cater to civilian uses of aircraft from business or recreation, as opposed to commercial airports which deal with the transportation of passengers or cargo via commercial airlines.
Among local general aviation airports, the Jersey Shore Airport accounts for two jobs, a payroll of $54,000 and economic activity of $224,000, while the William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven accounts for 51 jobs, $1.9 million in payroll and $6.8 million in economic activity.
According to the report, the methods used to measure the economic impact of airports follows guidelines set by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Economic impacts for all airports were in three impact categories: direct, indirect-induced, and total.
Direct impacts include impacts related to on-airport businesses and government agencies and activities that takes place outside the airport, typically through visitor spending.
Indirect-induced impacts are attributed to employees spending their wages locally, and airport businesses buying good and services.
The total impacts are the combined total of the direct and indirect impacts. From the study’s perspective, those impacts were quantified in terms of jobs, payroll and annual economic activity.
The jobs statistic reflects not only employment at the airport, but also employees who work outside the airport who rely on air travel as a basis for their employment, Murawski said.
Murawski said the study paints the economic impacts of airports with a broad brush. Findings in the study was acquired by interviewing about 1,000 companies throughout the state and making assumptions based on those interviews, he said.
“This study is fine, but it’s more of a generalized study,” he said. “It’s not a precise science. They didn’t survey every company in Pennsylvania, and even if they did, circumstances can change very quickly from one month to the next.”
That does not mean the information contained in the study cannot be helpful, he said.
Case in point: The Williamsport Regional Airport is seeking a second commercial air carrier to provide a connection to the west or south. Findings in the report will be used as the base for a more indepth study that will be used to make a case for another carrier to come to the airport, Murawski said.
The study is being conducted by the authority and Chamber of Commerce, which hired Eugene, Ore. consulting firm Sixel Consulting Group LLC to guide the study. The study will involved interviewing local companies regarding their air service needs, Murawski said.
The airport has been without a western connection since about 2004 when US Airways, the airport’s lone commercial carrier, discontinued service between Pittsburgh and Williamsport. Since that time, the airport’s lone connection is Philadelphia.
“It’s positive data,” Murawski said of the study. “We need to build on it. We look forward to working with the chamber to build our case for a second carrier.”
Murawski said a survey of local companies should reveal even more impressive impact statistics than the state study shows.
Why? Because the study began when Marcellus Shale activity in the region was in its early stages, he said.
“The state study took Marcellus (activity) into account, but I don’t think it got the full breadth and depth of Marcellus needs,” he said. “Marcellus has been evolving and that study started a couple years ago.”
“I think the numbers we have here will be strengthened beyond what the report says, once we do more outreach with Marcellus companies,” he said. “One-third of the enplanements (at the airport) are Marcellus Shale-related now, and that continues to grow.”
Source: WILLIAMSPORT SUN-GAZETTE