Allegheny County Airport Authority officials say County Airport in West Mifflin and its 1,600 jobs gets as much attention as Pittsburgh International Airport.
“We have put them on an equal footing in importance in growing the region,” authority senior vice president Paul L. Hoback Jr. said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting for an expanded Voyager Jet fixed-based operation at County.
“(Authority CEO Christina Cassotis) wants to make County Airport a destination for general aviation activity and an economic generator for West Mifflin and the surrounding community,” Hoback said.
He represented Cassotis at the dedication for Voyager Jet Center’s new 18,000-square-foot hangar with other amenities covering 8,500 square feet.
Those amenities include a passenger departure/arrival facility, a pilot lounge with sleep room, a state-of-the-art conference room, Wi-Fi service and a designated flight planning center.
“I think it is a great day for aviation in West Mifflin,” said county Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, council liaison to an authority on which he once was a member.
“We live in the greatest part of Pennsylvania,” state Sen. James R. Brewster said.
The McKeesport Democrat said natural resources available in the boom days of the steel industry are available today for expansion of the area economy.
“There were a lot of individuals who thought this would not be built,” said Voyager CEO Chuck Falce, a West Mifflin native who said the center will set “a new tone for private aviation and fixed based operator service in Southwestern Pennsylvania and this entire region.”
Voyager is one of two fixed-based operators at County. Corporate Air LLC is the other, a company that operates centers at County and Pittsburgh International airports.
“Local government works very hard to attract businesses like this,” Brewster said.
Cassotis is setting a new tone for County Airport’s development, Hoback and authority vice president for corporate and community affairs Vince Gastgeb said.
“West Mifflin and Allegheny County Airport is included in every grant consideration,” said Gastgeb, a former South Hills county councilman who now takes the authority’s case to Harrisburg, as well as to local governments in the vicinity of the two authority airports.
“We keep telling everybody West Mifflin is taking off,” Mayor Chris Kelly said. “This is a very busy facility and we look forward to the new relationship with (Cassotis).”
“We are very excited about the economic impact it is going to have on the 38th Legislative District,” said Jennifer Halaszynski, chief of staff to state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg.
That new relationship has included meetings at which a strategic and business plan for County Airport has been discussed — one that could be implemented as early as the start of 2016.
Hoback said it would be the first such plan developed in 15 years. He said it would include goals and action plans on how to grow County Airport.
In late May there was a meeting with local officials as well as “a few pilots who are constantly talking to us about ideas,” Hoback said. Another meeting about the plan on Friday will involve airport employees.
After that, Hoback said, “We probably will have one more meeting before we draft a final strategic and business plan.”
That draft could be ready in October for consideration by the authority’s board.
“Then we’ll bring the stakeholders back for one final meeting,” Hoback said.
While efforts will be made to expand County as a destination for visitors and private pilots, the West Mifflin airport won’t get commercial service.
“Our air operating agreement at Pittsburgh International does not allow that,” Hoback said. “It is likely not to change.”
The effort to expand Voyager involved architect Dean Hess, builder Jim Kelly of New Belle Construction of Belle Vernon, and Community Bank, which stepped in to replace the project’s original lender. Falce said the original financing did not cover code-related requirements that cropped up on what was the first major construction project at County Airport in 30 years.
Community Bank is near completion on a plan for repayment of that financing.
“We’re putting it together right now,” said Community Bank chief operating officer Patrick G. O’Brien. “It is in essence ready to go.”
O’Brien was among four representatives of Community Bank at the ribbon-cutting. He knows the area south of County Airport from his past role as CEO of First Federal Savings Bank in Monessen, which merged with Washington-based Community Bank a year ago.
“Our goal is to continue to find ways to grow throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania,” O’Brien said. “The ability to do more business in Allegheny County is attractive to us.”
While the merger expanded Community Bank into five counties, it probably won’t mean more brick-and-mortar offices north of County Airport. O’Brien said the communitybank.tv website “can do just about all of the traditional banking” for which customers used to go to bank branches.