Thursday, June 07, 2007

Update on Regional Airport Authority

As mentioned in a previous blog post, Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Lentz (D-161) of Delaware County has introduced legislation (hb 1182) to create a regional airport authority for the Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley airports. The Lehigh Valley International Airport board has rejected the idea.

However, it is indisputable that traffic is increasing at the Philadelphia airport and going down at Lehigh Valley, as shown by these two quotes:

Last year, LVIA had its lowest passenger volume in more than 10 years. Some of the larger airlines have reduced service here. Earlier this year, a leisure carrier canceled planned nonstop flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C. This month, a US Airways contract carrier halted four daily nonstop flights to Pittsburgh from here. (Bonner)

Philadelphia served 31.8 million passengers last year, with nearly 516,000 arrivals and departures. It is expected to reach its theoretical capacity between 2014 and 2017, though it exceeds capacity during certain peak hours and in poor weather, according to airport spokeswoman Phyllis VanIstendal. The average delay is 11 to 13 minutes per flight, she said. (Bender 4/26)

Lentz believes that a regional authority would help redistribute some flights in the region. It should also be noted that the FAA plans to have more flights in and out of the Philadelphia airport fly over Delaware County, where residents (including Lentz’s constituents) are concerned about increased noise and safety. (Bender 4/26)

However, the idea of a regional authority is not a new one. In 1971 a tri-state commission recommended the creation of such an authority (Lentz 6/02). In fact, Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast without a regional authority. (Lentz 4/18). The reduction in flights at LVIA means residents of the area must travel farther to fly.
More than half of all Lehigh Valley residents who fly rely on airports other than LVIA. An estimated 25 to 30 percent use Philadelphia International; another 25 to 30 percent travel to Newark/New York. LVIA has ample capacity and desire for increased airline business. (Lentz 6/02)

While Lentz’s bill only concerns those two airports, others are being looked at as well. The Wilmington and Atlantic City airports might also be considered when looking at flight distribution.

Nor is Lentz the only one looking at the issue. The FAA funded a study on the feasibility of diverting some flights from New York to LVIA.

The port authority this month is scheduled to wrap up a three-year study of whether it would be effective to divert excess flight traffic from New York City to the Lehigh Valley.
The Federal Aviation Administration funded study will estimate how many flights could be diverted to LVIA, how much it would cost and which travelers would respond well to such a change.
The study also focused on other airports, including Trenton Mercer, Atlantic City International and Stewart International. (Petty)

Among the findings:
The study's results, according to consultants who were involved, show secondary airports such as LVIA have enough excess capacity to take on a combined 10 percent to 15 percent of the traffic at the three New York City airports run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Philadelphia airport was not part of the study, which was commissioned in 2005.(Bonner)

While a regional authority cannot force airlines to move flights from one airport to another, Lentz thinks it could use powers of persuasion:
Under the current system, LVIA competes with Philadelphia for airline service. A regional authority would allow LVIA and Philadelphia to market their services, plan infrastructure improvements, and negotiate gate fees and landing charges as a single, unified entity -- possibly providing subsidies to LVIA to make it more attractive to new airlines. (Lentz 6/02)

As noted by one newspaper article, the bill has some powerful supporters:
Among the co-sponsors of Lentz's bill are several Delaware County Republicans - including Mario Civera, minority chairman of the House Appropriations Committee - and Democratic state Reps. Josh Shapiro, the deputy House speaker, and John Siptroth, chairman of the House's aviation subcommittee.
State Reps. Babette Josephs, Tony Payton Jr. and Cherelle Parker, all Philadelphia Democrats, have also signed onto the bill. (Bender 4/26)

HB 1182

Belder, Tom, “Bill seeks regional airport authority,” Philadelphia Inquirer 4/26

Bender, William, “Authority proposed to run Phila airport,” Daily News 4/26

Bonner, Jeanne, “Bill would create airport authority for Philly, Valley,“ Morning Call 5/23

Lentz, Bryan, letter to the editor, Express-Times (6/02)

Lentz, Bryan, “Too many planes, too little sky,” Citizen Hunter 6/04

Lentz to introduce bill aimed at spreading out mounting air traffic,” [press release] 4/18

LVIA position against the regional authority

Petty, Precious “Airport authority proposed,” Express Times 5/18

Regional airport authority proposed,” Philadelphia Business Journal 4/27

Soaring airport traffic deserves closer examination,” [press release] 4/23

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