Five airports in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley were among the recipients of $10 million total in state investments, announced Monday by Gov. Tom Wolf, through the Aviation Transportation Assistance Program.
Overall, funds were earmarked for 12 projects at 10 airports.
“Aviation plays a vital role in keeping our state’s economy moving,” Wolf said in a release. “These investments will help Pennsylvania’s airports operate safely, expand to meet current demands, and sustain growth well into the future.”
Approved aviation projects included:
Berks County, Reading Regional/Carl A. Spaatz Field – $3 million for air operations hangar complex infrastructure to accommodate the growth of an existing airport tenant.
Cumberland County, Carlisle Airport – $524,000 for design and construction of a terminal building to further continued economic development.
Lancaster County, Lancaster Airport – $750,000 to complete corporate hangar infrastructure to accommodate the growth of an existing airport tenant and provide space for a new operation relocating there.
Lehigh County, Lehigh Valley International Airport – $1.76 million to continue terminal connector and security checkpoint expansion and to enhance terminal commercial development connectivity.
York County, Capital City Airport – $150,000 for rehabilitation of airfield hangar roofs and structural reinforcement to repair rusted sheeting.
Lancaster Airport and its director received awards from the Northeast Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives during its annual meeting in Hershey last week.
The airport was recognized as the Best Non-Aeronautical Business Development and Ed Foster, director, was awarded Airport Executive of the Year.
The Best Non-Aeronautical Business Development award is presented to an airport sponsor that makes a significant contribution to the betterment of their airport facility through unique, non-aeronautical business development efforts, a statement from the airport said.
Lancaster Airport showcased its improved economic viability through varied methods of revenue generation, unique financing and business community engagement, the statement said. The airport has been very creative in repurposing land that is not developable for aviation growth which allows an uninterrupted stream of revenue to continue regardless of aviation business trends.
Lancaster Airport Director Ed Foster was awarded Airport Executive of the Year. This award is presented to an executive member of the chapter who is in good standing and an accredited airport director, the airport said.
Foster. who has served as the airport director since January 2021, led the airport to its best year ever, financially, by leading the way with record aeronautical and non-aeronautical growth, the statement said.
With aircraft activity growth at an all-time high, Foster has elevated the airport to the third busiest airport in Pennsylvania and has acquired additional air carrier service routes for the community.
Aviation businesses are concerned about keeping their costs low in addition to making their equipment more energy efficient.
“They are absolutely fanatic about driving down the fuel consumption,” said Paul Finklestein, director of marketing for Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer based in East Hartford, Connecticut. “As an industry, we’ve set a very aggressive goal that we want to be carbon neutral by 2025 based on 2005 levels.”
Pratt & Whitney also has a facility in Middletown, Dauphin County, called Pratt & Whitney Amercon that manufactures jet engine parts. The facility is working to make its manufacturing processes more environmentally friendly.
One way they are doing that is by developing new engine technology, such as the GTF (geared turbofan) engine, which the company officials say significantly reduces fuel, noise and carbon dioxide.
The engine has been in service since 2016 and the company invested more than $10 billion in the technology.
The technology is in about 550 planes, Finklestein said, saving about 150 million gallons of fuel, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 1.5 million tons, the equivalent of taking about 500,000 cars of the road.
Primarily, the industry wants to reduce its operating costs, and fuel makes up a significant component of those costs, he added.
“We want to be seen as an industry that’s very clean and very green,” Finklestein said.
Finklestein said he believes the use of biofuels will increase as an alternative source of fuel.
In addition, airlines are retiring aircraft once those planes hit 25 to 30 years of service.
“The reduction or retirement of older planes… will significantly reduce the carbon footprint,” he said. “There’s a large amount of airplanes that will soon be ready to retire.”
A burgeoning industry is literally taking off nationwide, and members of the nascent Harrisburg-based group want to ensure Pennsylvania doesn’t get left behind.
“The key to advocacy is education,” said David Heath, director of the association, which formed in February and is based on North Second Street.
The association has a coming-out party of sorts on June 11 during a nearly day-long event coordinated by Heath. It took place both inside and outside the state Capitol, where representatives of the drone industry met with state leaders and the public to show how drones are changing the way businesses operate.
According to the association, drones will offer $82.1 billion in economic benefits and create 100,000 new jobs in the United States alone by 2025. The association’s goal is to encourage state leaders to support the development of a drone industry – or unmanned aircraft systems, as they are more formally known – because other states already are doing so.
For example, New York is putting up $30 million to pay for a 50-mile unmanned air corridor between Syracuse and Rome, the association said. Other states have become federal test sites for the drone industry, while others have been joining regional partnerships to develop initiatives. As each day passes, Pennsylvania seems to be falling farther behind in developing a domestic drone industry, observers said.
For now, the association isn’t asking Pennsylvania’s leaders for much – except to be aware of what is going on and to offer support as ideas develop, several people said. One goal is to create a working group within the state aviation caucus – a legislative group – to develop a roadmap that would “identify funding opportunities to support critical drone infrastructure,” the association said in a fact sheet.
The association isn’t asking for new regulations, pointing out that drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, which controls U.S. airspaces and already requires commercial drone operators to get a license.
But that doesn’t mean there is no room for action on the state level. In October 2018, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed Act 78, which limits the ability of municipalities to regulate unmanned aircraft unless authorized by the statute.
Local jurisdictions often move to pass ordinances that can interfere with commercial operators, said David Day, executive vice president at Keystone Aerial Surveys based in Philadelphia. That makes education critical, he added.
Keystone does work nationwide and has found that some officials in states – such as New York and New Jersey – are more aware of issues facing the drone industry than those in Pennsylvania. The advocacy day was an effort to change that, too, he said. It also is hoped that Pennsylvania’s government agencies will increasingly adopt the technologies, as agencies in other states have, Day added.
The association maintains that 36 out of the 50 states have transportation departments that fund centers or programs for drone operations. PennDOT, it said, is not among those that have initiated outside programs.
Alexis Campbell, PennDOT press secretary, said PennDOT has an active internal drone program and has been flying drones for several years.
“We’ve recently advanced our operator training and certification program and are currently engaged with a pilot program assessing efficiencies for the use of drones for 3D modeling of stockpiles, excavations and roadway slide areas,” she said in a written response to questions.
Flying into new roles
Several attendees at the June 11 event said they think state leaders will be supportive of ideas to expand drone programs both within state agencies and with commercial applications once they understand the potential.
Tasks such as bridge inspections or aerial surveys that once took weeks to conduct can now be done in a day or so, Day said. Farmers, utilities and others have seen how drones can reduce the costs of projects and inspections. They also have weighed the liability risks and realized they are better off using drones.
Governments, however, seem to have a higher hurdle to overcome when liability concerns are raised, Day said.
Several experts noted the concerns can be eased once the options are carefully weighed. For example, the risks to survey a utility line traditionally would involve workers using ladder trucks to examine high-voltage wires, which is dangerous work that could take weeks. Now, drones with cameras can inspect the same line in a fraction of the time – and without putting people in harm’s way.
As people become more aware of how drones can be used, the industry has taken off, Day and others said.
Keegan Flahive is a remote pilot for Argos Unmanned Aerial Solutions based in Lititz. When the company was founded in 2015, it did a lot of work with real estate companies that wanted aerial views of properties, Flahive said. The company now does work for a number of different clients, including construction companies, utilities and government agencies.
The opportunities for creating new jobs and businesses are vast, said Albert R. Sarvis, an assistant professor of geospatial technology at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. HU has adapted its geospatial programs to include the use of drones and has sponsored summer camps for students in high school and middle school to encourage interest in the technology, Sarvis said.
Others pointed out that drones have been used in the film and television industries, as well as in surveying rail lines and in police and emergency applications, such as river rescues. One story told during the June 11 event was how cattle had ruined a portion of a farmer’s crops. A drone was able to assess the total damage, which helped justify the insurance claim.
Then there are the spin-off businesses. Ryan Boswell is the Philadelphia-based sales manager for PhaseOne Industrial, a camera company based in Colorado. PhaseOne cameras can be outfitted on various drones to do a variety of work for governments, quarry operators and utility companies, among others Boswell said.
Day said the drone industry is competitive in that anyone can buy a drone for around $500 and set up shop. However, commercial operators are required to take FAA training to become a licensed remote pilot, he and others said.
At Keystone, Day said, prices can range depending on the job and the location. A day of aerial camera work with a licensed remote pilot might cost about $2,000 in some high-density areas in New York or New Jersey and perhaps about $1,000 elsewhere.
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