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Our view: Erie airport pumps up our economy
December 5, 2011
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  • December 2, 2011

    It’s good to have a local airport, not just for travelers who prefer to fly, but for the economic benefit of the entire community.

    That’s the conclusion of a new study that examined the economic spinoff benefits of airports in Pennsylvania. The study confirms what our economic development experts have been stressing for years: Erie needs an airport to retain and attract business, and the investment in Erie International Airport pays dividends for the entire region.

    The Pennsylvania Bureau of Aviation study, by Wilbur Smith Associates, found that the Erie airport pumped almost $165 million into our region in 2010. This figure counted the money that visitors spent for hotels, food, entertainment and shopping. It included salaries for the 2,050 jobs that are directly and indirectly linked to the airport. Consider, also, the dollars going into construction to lengthen the airport’s main runway, which also involves rerouting Powell Avenue

    The runway project is still a tough sell for some Erie citizens who remain skeptical that Erie will benefit from this $83 million investment.

    Yet another part of the study notes that GE Transportation, Erie Insurance, Snap Tite, Lord Corp. and FedEx are among the local businesses that regularly use the airport. They said the proximity to a commercial airport is a top priority when they consider expanding or relocating (Lord Corp. is now trying to decide whether to expand in Erie or elsewhere).

    This is not to say that all is rosy in the aviation industry. Earlier this week, American Airlines, which doesn’t serve Erie, announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but will continue to fly. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported that Southwest Airlines will drop its nonstop service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Without a competitor in that market, USAirways announced that its round-trip fare between the two cities will jump from $118 to $698 in January.

    Airlines have also been hurt by the surge in fuel prices, and a recent USA Today story says airlines are phasing out small jets and turboprops because they aren’t efficient. “For airlines, it comes down to spreading fuel costs among passengers,” the story said. The per-passenger fuel charge eases when there are more passengers per plane.

    Erie’s runway is being extended by 1,920 feet, to 7,500 feet, to meet federal safety standards but also to accommodate larger and heavier planes. Construction is taking place now, with the new runway expected to open by the end of 2012.

    John Oliver, president of VisitErie, says the new runway will boost Erie’s already-strong tourism economy. “We’re going to see more national meetings and more people coming in,” Oliver predicts.

    For those who love Erie but like to escape to warmer climes, remember that Erie’s longer runway may also attract service to Orlando, Atlanta and Cancun. Doesn’t that sound lovely right now?

    Source: GO ERIE
    Date: 2011-12-02