News Article - March 15, 2008

  POTTSTOWN — The owner of the Desmond Hotel in East Whiteland is attempting to buy The Pottstown-Limerick Airport. Richard A. Jones, president of Fare Share Ltd. aircraft charter, management and pilot services, spoke about the future of the Pottstown-Limerick Airport, 3310 W. Ridge Pike, during a “Fly Local” gathering of the TriCounty Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

   Jones said the airport, which is owned by Exelon Corp., was recently sold to investor and airplane collector John Desmond, owner of The Desmond. But transfer of the property is “held up by the FAA,” Jones said. Desmond plans to extend the 3,371-foot runway at the airport by 1,500 feet, erect a hangar for his private airplane collection and put in a restaurant, according to Jones. He said the airport offers charter opportunities as well as flight school.

   “The perception of aircraft charter is it’s for the rich folks,” Jones aid. “The reality is it’s just so hassle-free. So easy to do … You can probably do it for less than the cost of airline tickets if you go in a group. People perceive it’s way out of their reach, but you really have to do the math.” The chamber encouraged members to think of the airports as resources for the area.

   The gathering of 200 heard from representatives of the Pottstown Municipal Airport, the Reading Regional Airport, the Pottstown-Limerick Airport and Lehigh Valley International Airport at the breakfast gathering held at the Pottstown Elks Lodge. Ray Bechtel, Pottstown’s airport coordinator, said Pottstown Municipal Airport saw a 175 percent increase in operations (takeoffs and landings) from 2002 to 2007. “And we’re growing further,” said Bechtel, who described the airport as a “gem that’s been hidden in the dirt, and it is, in my opinion, the new gateway to Pottstown.”

   Planned growth at the 1149 Glasgow St. complex includes improvements to the runway and taxiways utilizing a $200,000 grant, plans to make $600,000 of electrical improvements this summer, and a multimillion-dollar project in the works to build 40 additional hangars at the field, he said. “Currently there are 35 hangars, with a waitlist of in excess of 40 people. This not only means they will come, but that they are waiting to come,” Bechtel said. “I think in the next five years we will outsize the facility.” The airport is also a popular refueling stop for planes in the area and is selling what Bechtel called “a lot of fuel for a small airport” — more than 60,000 gallons annually.

   Terry P. Sroka, airport manager at Reading Regional Airport, 2501 Bernville Road (Route 183), Reading, said the airport and the industry have undergone a lot of change since Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to that time, Reading Regional Airport had five airlines based there. In 2004, the airport lost its air carrier service but continues to offer charter operations and flight training. Attracting a carrier in the post-9/11 industry has been a huge challenge, according to Sroka. Nontheless, the Reading airport had close to 74,000 annual operations last year, Sroka said. By comparison, Pottstown Municipal had just under 20,000, according to Bechtel.

   “We like to think of ourselves as a little city within the city of Reading,” said Sroka, who noted the facility is also home to the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, Malibooz Bar & Grill and a Holiday Inn Express. “I feel we are in a prime location and can offer a lot of opportunities to the corporate air carrier.” Among the development opportunities at the Reading airport is a proposed $7.5 million development by AFCO to install a hangar facility.

   Susan Kittle, director of business development for Lehigh Valley International Airport, gave an overview of the Allentown facility. With a $22 million operating budget this year, Lehigh Valley was the largest of the regional airports represented at Thursday’s meeting. “It’s a blessing and a curse where we’re located,” Kittle said, noting that proximity to Philadelphia International Airport and Newark International Airport, among others, makes it difficult to secure and retain air carriers.

   But Kittle noted, “We have a substantial population base to withstand and hold airline service.” LVIA currently has seven carriers: Delta, Northwest, Air Canada, United, Continental, US Airways and Allegiant, its latest addition. Of the passenger traffic in the region, Philadelphia International gets about half, while LVIA gets 17 percent, she said. Adding more low cost carriers, such as Allegiant, would help the airport to grow. “The industry has changed. The trend used to be big carriers, but after 2000 there was a decrease in business travelers. Now low-cost carriers are increasing,” Kittle said.

   But small and large carriers alike are feeling the pinch of high fuel costs, she said. “I like to tell people, ‘Just think about us for air service. You may have to connect, and you will still have to be searched, but it’s not as much of a hassle and the wait time is not as bad,’” Kittle said.

Source - Daily Local.Com