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March 27, 2014

Ebensburg group makes pitch to county airport authority

JOHNSTOWN — They are not asking for a bailout, but a representative of the group operating Ebensburg Airport admitted the Regional Aviation, Conservation and Recreation Association would welcome some support.

“If the county would like to bring the (Ebensburg) airport under county control, we’d be willing to work with them and welcome their support,” association Treasurer James Loncella said after his presentation Thursday to the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority.

Loncella explained that the nonprofit group operates the airport for Ebensburg Borough, which owns the facility along Route 22. There is a part-time airport manager, but volunteers do much of the work, including mowing and runway plowing.

The group obtained some state grants for recent improvements, but the money came with the requirement that the facility continue to operate as a public airport for the next 30 years, he said.

Its primary source of funding is from hangar rent, Loncella said.

Runway paving is in good shape; lighting is all working and the fuel system is relatively new, Loncella said, explaining that the facility should last for many more years.

This summer’s plans call for volunteers to put a new roof on the Ebensburg terminal.

Loncella, who is former president of the association and a former Johnstown airport authority chairman, said he did not ask to address the authority. County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder, an authority member, asked for the presentation.

“By no means am I saying we are not willing to continue to operate the airport,” Loncella said. “But certainly it would be easier with more formal support at the county level.”

Johnstown airport authority members James Huerth, Jack Babich and Michael Parish agreed to work as a committee to investigate the advantages and disadvantages of various strategies to help the county’s other public airstrip.

“I asked for it to be brought up now,” Lengenfelder said. “It looked like RACRA was losing its membership,” Lengenfelder said. “Rather than just sit there and say, ‘Now what do we do?,’ we want this body to sit down and see what the options are.”

One of RACRA’s most active members died recently and another has had to scale back volunteer work due to health issues, Loncella said. That leaves about five or six active members.

But plans will be launched soon to recruit new volunteers interested in supporting the community airport, he said, noting that anyone interested can get more information at the airport office.  

Meanwhile, leaders said the Johnstown airport has its own problems. Reports Thursday showed Silver Airways’ already-meager ridership plummeted over the harsh winter.

Its contract runs out in June.

Financially, the Johnstown-Cambria County Airport Authority lost nearly $10,000 last month, accountant Dennis Kotzan reported.

Randy Griffith covers transportation for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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