Air-Traffic-Control Tower Celebrated at University Park Airport

Air-Traffic-Control Tower Celebrated at University Park Airport
December 08, 2010 8:52 AM
by Adam Smeltz

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Back in the 1970s, Graham Spanier got his instrument and commercial flight training at University Park Airport.

At that point, the only emergency vehicle was a nearby pickup truck. And the runway — now nearly 7,000 feet long — spanned only 4,000 feet, the Penn State president said Tuesday at the general aviation terminal.

From humble beginnings, the airport has grown into a multi-million-dollar economic driver for Centre County, Spanier and other local officials said. They appeared at a ceremonial dedication of the airport’s latest big advancement: an 82-foot air-traffic control tower.

The $3.9 million project, funded with a combination of local, state and federal funds, has been under construction since November 2009. It’s expected to begin operations in January with a seven-person staff.

“Without these (infrastructure) improvements and investments, we can’t grow” as a region, said state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, addressing about 100 people at the dedication. He sees research and infrastructure as the two best ways the government can spend money, he said.

The state has estimated that University Park Airport already has a $90 million annual impact on the local economy. And the new air-traffic tower will help make the region more appealing to growth industries, Spanier said.

Its core purpose is to improve safety and efficiency of air traffic at the airport and in the general area, airport leaders have said. It’s also expected to make the airport more attractive to aviation operators.

According to Penn State, which owns the acreage where the airport sits, the facility sees the sixth-most passenger enplanements among commercial airports in Pennsylvania. Passenger numbers at the airport have grown 179 percent in the past 24 years and peaked at 144,160 in 2007, the university reported.

That places University Park Airport above the average trends seen at most regional airports. It’s served by the Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways airlines.

Speakers at the Tuesday dedication waxed nostalgic about earlier air operations that served State College and Penn State before University Park Airport gained prominence. One, as recalled by Penn State board Chairman Steve Garban, was a primitive airfield in the area of Black Moshannon State Park. Deer often had to be cleared from the runway to make way for air traffic there, Garban said.

Indeed, “we’ve come a long way,” Corman said.

He said he looks forward to the day when the airport offers direct flights to Charlotte, N.C. — “so we can all fly past the Philadelphia airport.”

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