News Article - May 11, 2009


   TINICUM — With the help of acting Director of Aviation Mark Gale and Federal Aviation Administration Regional Administrator Carmine Gallo, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter cut the ribbon to commemorate the completion of the $70 million Runway 17-35 extension project at Philadelphia International Airport Friday.

   “Philadelphia International Airport is an economic engine for the entire Delaware Valley,” Nutter said. “The extension of Runway 17-35 represents the kind of smart public investment that will keep this engine humming, benefiting the entire region for decades to come.” The reaction in Tinicum, home to approximately 70 percent of airport property, was less enthusiastic. “I was not clapping my hands,” said Tinicum Commissioner Tom Giancristoforo.

   Runway 17-35 was lengthened by 1,040 feet to 6,500 feet to accommodate more regional jets and narrow-body aircraft. It was put into service Feb. 12 and can now handle the 737s used by Southwest Airlines and other large planes that were once confined to the airport’s longer east-west runways. “The extended runway gives the airport more flexibility in managing airfield operations,” said Gale. “If one of the two primary runways need to be taken out of service for any reason, such as construction, maintenance or snow removal, Runway 17-35 can now handle many of those planes that require a longer runway to operate.” If the FAA gets its way, the airfield may encroach further into the township in the years to come.

   Alternatives in an FAA capacity enhancement plan include the construction of a new 9,100-foot east-west runway along the Delaware River, the reconfiguration of two other runways and the relocation of the UPS facility on Hog Island Road. “We’re not against expansion or the airport’s existence, but we don’t want to get sucked up by the airport,” Giancristoforo said. “If they want to expand, let them expand in Philadelphia.”

   Until 2007, an agreement between township and the city, which owns the airport, required the city to get approval from commissioners before buying land in Tinicum. The pact expired in 2007 and the sides have been unable to come to terms on a new agreement. Without one, township officials worry the city will use eminent domain to level 72 homes and 10 businesses in the 2nd Ward and acquire the 130-acre Henderson Tract.

   “They are also looking at the Tinicum Industrial Park — the former Westinghouse site,” Giancristoforo said. “They don’t want to have to ask our permission to acquire these properties.” The increased airfield capacity created by the lengthening of Runway 17-35 is expected to reduce flight delays by 11,480 hours in the next year — an average of between one and two minutes per flight. Airport officials said the improvements will save fuel and reduce emissions by decreasing aircraft idle time.

   “The region depends on Philadelphia International Airport to remain globally competitive,” said Rina Cutler, the city’s deputy mayor for transportation and utilities. “This runway extension is projected to save airlines $20 million a year in aircraft direct operating costs and generate a net savings in passenger time valued at $29 million annually.” Like U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-7, of Edgmont, state Rep. Bryan Lentz, D-161, of Swarthmore, and members of Delaware County Council, Giancristoforo wants to see underutilized airports in the Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg, Newark, Del., and Atlantic City, N.J., take on some of Philadelphia International’s air traffic.

   “The city doesn’t even allow commercial traffic at Northeast Philadelphia Airport,” he said. “They don’t mind looking after their residents, but they don’t care about Delaware County residents at all.”

Source - Daily Times