New Castle Airport prepping for takeoff|
NORTH EAST, Md. -- As chronic capacity problems lead to lengthy delays at Philadelphia International Airport, New Castle Airport is looking at ways to offer some relief. Officials are completing a master plan, and considering ways to expand the airport's commercial and cargo operations. Additional commercial flights could be added this spring. "This is an opportunity to look at this airport as a serious player in the Delaware region for accommodating some portion of the service traditionally accommodated at Philadelphia International Airport," said Steve D. Williams, airports director for the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which operates the site. Williams presented an update of airport operations at the Mid-Atlantic Transportation & Logistics Symposium on Friday at Cecil Community College in Maryland. The 1,250-acre airport's three runways are underutilized, Williams said. "In order for an airport to be viable, it has to have balance," he said, and balance means providing more than just general, recreational aviation. In June, Delta Air Lines initiated nonstop service from New Castle County to Atlanta. Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a division of Delta, flies two round trips, at 61 percent capacity, six days a week. One trip is flown Sundays. "Delta's new service from Wilmington is on par with our expectations," said Gina Laughlin, a Delta spokeswoman. "We will con- tinue to look for additional support from Wilmington travelers to ensure success of the service over the long term." Williams said the airport, formerly New Castle County Airport, is in talks with Delta to expand service this spring to New York and Cincinnati. Laughlin said any additional services would be directly related to passenger demand. Positioning airport for growth Before the arrival of Delta this summer, Delaware was the only state without regularly scheduled air traffic, Williams said. "In Delaware, everyone has to drive past our front door to get to Philadelphia or Baltimore for flight service," he said. "We're trying to position ourselves ... with what airlines are looking for and what passengers are looking for." Other airlines have contacted the airport and expressed interest in starting commercial service as soon as next fall, Williams said. New Castle is "leaking" 791,000 trips a year to nearby commercial airports such as in Baltimore and Philadelphia, Williams said. He estimated that a revamped New Castle Airport could capture between 11 percent and 37 percent of those flights. In preparation for additional commercial flights, the airport is considering expanding the terminal, which could mean six passenger gates, Williams said. Another name change might be in the cards, such as Northern Delaware Regional Airport or Delaware Valley Regional Airport, he said. Williams said he knows the airport has a checkered history with commercial air service. But things could be different now, he said, because of a renewed emphasis on commercial flights and because of the buzz that Delta has created. United Airlines, Shuttle America and Crown Airlines all have pulled out of the airport in the last 20 years. Dirk Dinkeloo, president of Aero Taxi Inc., said Delta's arrival hasn't affected airport businesses. Aero Taxi runs a charter operation and fueling station at New Castle Airport. "At the number of flights [Delta is] putting through right now, it doesn't affect traffic much," Dinkeloo said. "If it was to become a commuter hub, it would adversely affect the desirability of this facility for corporate aircraft. ... It would make life more difficult for the rest of us." Security would increase, resulting in delays, and an increase in traffic would mean more trouble for aircraft departing and arriving, he said. Not all are on board with expansion Dinkeloo said that rather than focusing on commercial traffic, the airport should emphasize corporate business. Corporate flights are what will generate economic development for the area, he said, as businesses bring in high-paying jobs for mechanics, pilots and crews who operate and oversee the aircraft business. Even if corporate business reached its full potential, the airport would have leftover capacity, Williams said. If New Castle Airport were able to become a primary commercial airport -- something that could happen as early as next year -- it would become eligible for $1 million in annual federal funding. General aviation airports are guaranteed only $150,000 in federal funding a year, Williams said. Stephen Donato, who runs the anti-Philadelphia airport noise Web site, www.phl-caw .org, said he doesn't believe expanding commercial service at New Castle Airport would alleviate Philadelphia traffic. "All it does is make it so Delaware politicians can say we have air service," said Donato, who lives in northern New Castle County, beneath the flight path of Philadelphia-bound planes. "I'm not advocating pushing more air traffic out over Delaware residences." Williams said any noise associated with potential expansion at the airport would be mitigated. "It's important to plan properly to make sure impacts are not felt by the community," he said. Any changes, though, would "pale in comparison to the impact of the Philadelphia airport." The New Castle Airport has not seen an increase in noise complaints since Delta began operating there, he added.