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Officials envision reinvigorated Allegheny County Airport

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Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Airport Authority officials stressed a commitment to improvements at the West Mifflin airfield during a meeting this week. It coincided with a federal announcement of a $1.5 million grant for runway rehabilitation there.
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Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Dan Bockstoce and grandson Liam Crothers, 22 months, of Bethel Park stopped by the Allegheny County Airport on Thursday. Liam wanted to see what he calls 'airbeans.' Allegheny County Airport Authority officials told West Mifflin leaders that they want to make County Airport more of a destination for visitors, but have no plans for commuter flights there.

The county airport authority wants West Mifflin’s Allegheny County Airport to be a destination — but not for commuter flights.

That sums up a meeting borough officials had Monday with new authority CEO Christina Cassotis that came 24 hours before a $1.5 million federal grant was announced for taxiway rehabilitation there.

“It was a positive meeting,” borough Manager Brian Kamauf said. “We discussed the history of the airport.”

It dates back to Pittsburgh and McKeesport’s window to the world between 1931 and 1952, when commercial service moved from West Mifflin to what then was Greater Pittsburgh Airport, now Pittsburgh International.

According to the county airport authority, the West Mifflin airport remains the seventh busiest in the state on the strength of private pilots, medical helicopter flights and other services that do not involve regularly scheduled commercial flights.

“We met to discuss the future plans for our airport,” Councilwoman Joyce Kushner said at borough council’s Wednesday meeting. “We were hoping to get flights in and out of our airport.”

Mayor Chris Kelly said, “the (CEO) was straightforward and kind of sympathetic to our cause.”

“There are a lot of challenges and questions,” Kamauf said.

Airport officials want increased activity at County, but that won’t include commercial flights such as what Arnold Palmer Regional Airport gets in Westmoreland County, though empty planes could be parked in West Mifflin.

“We have an interest in seeing the County Airport grow,” county airport authority vice president of media relations Bob Kerlik said. “It’s an under-utilized gem. We’re looking at how we can generate more activity there. We’re also looking to increase community participation and input on potential improvements.”

One possibility is a new name for the airport.

“What we did discuss was possibly changing the name of our airport to something catchy,” Kushner said. “Revamping the sidewalks and sprucing up the building. Also looking into plans of a restaurant and some stores to draw families to come and watch aircraft take off and land as so many of us did as kids.”

The sidewalk renovation is getting a $2.9 million boost from PennDOT, in a grant the county authority is partially matching for a total of $4 million of work borough officials hope will be done in time for the West Mifflin Community Day on Aug. 29.

Kushner said the idea was raised of “perhaps using our airport for stopover flights to nearby states.”

The mayor said the authority “was agreeable to research” for using County Airport for FedEx or other freight flights, or as parking places for empty planes when passengers get off at Pittsburgh International.

More improvement is coming courtesy of the Department of Transportation: $1,532,652 to be exact, in grant funding announced Tuesday by Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton.

“The grant will be used to rehabilitate a taxiway,” Kerlik said. “The planes use the taxiway to access the runways. Construction will likely begin this summer.”

“This grant funding will improve the airport’s infrastructure and support the facility in its role as the primary (Federal Aviation Administration) designated reliever airport for Pittsburgh International and host to a high volume of corporate traffic,” Casey said.

Casey and Kerlik called County Airport an important part of the regional economy.

Kelly didn’t seem convinced.

He told council what he told Cassotis, that he sees the millions of dollars going to develop Route 30 in the vicinity of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport and the jobs going to Beaver County communities close to Pittsburgh International rather than to Allegheny County municipalities.

Kamauf said, “They do recognize it as a valuable resource and want to take advantage of it.”

Others involved in Monday’s meeting were former Allegheny County Councilman Vince Gastgeb, now the airport authority’s vice president of government and community affairs; county Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin; state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg; and West Mifflin community development director Walter Anthony.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or [email protected].

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