Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority sets $57 million airport renewal plan

No longer cash-strapped and buried in debt, the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority is ready to embark on a $57 million airfield renewal that will start where the rubber meets the road — literally.

The authority Tuesday approved a five-year capital improvement program that will fund projects at all three Lehigh Valley airports, including replacement of the cracked and pitted runways at Lehigh Valley International Airport.

The plan is an effort to make up for lost time after five years in which the authority had to delay most airport maintenance so it could pay off a $26 million court judgment against it for taking a developer's land in the 1990s.

The last payment on that debt was in January, so the authority is back in the black. Though the capital plan runs five years, fully half of it will be spent in 2017, beginning with the resurfacing of more than 300 acres – the size of more than 200 football fields – of deteriorating runways, taxi ways and parking lots at the main airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.

Next year's projects will also include $10 million to build a bulk hangar designed to help attract more corporate jets.

"The runways are our primary business and they haven't been resurfaced in 20 years," said Charles Everett Jr., airport executive director. "It's about time we reinvest in our primary business."

The capital plan was reviewed at a meeting in which the authority also approved a $26 million 2017 budget that represents a 13 percent increase over 2016. Some of that would pay for an exploding Amazon.com ground handling operation that now employs more than 50 workers who are handling five flights of Amazon consumer goods a day.

Perhaps most encouraging is that the budget projects the airport to end the year with $5 million in the bank – a big turnaround from previous years in which the authority struggled to make annual payments on that court judgment.

"Clearly, we've turned a corner and we're in a much better position financially than we've been in a long time," Everett said. "It not only helps us invest in ventures such as the bulk hangar, but it will allow us to work on some of the maintenance that's been deferred for years."

The first task will be repairing runways that have become cracked and pitted. The plan calls for a study to begin in January to determine what needs to be done, how to do it and how much it will cost. Then, perhaps as early as next summer, crews will begin resurfacing LVIA's main runway, the 7,599-foot long Runway 31.

While flights will continue using Runway 31 during the day, crews will complete most of the work for the two-year project at night, Everett said. There will be a some periods in which more flights will have to be diverted to LVIA's secondary runway, the 5,800-foot long Runway 6-24, he said.

Once the main runway is complete, work on Runway 6-24 will begin, probably not until 2019. In the meantime, macadam and concrete work will be done on other roads, taxiways and parking lots at LVIA.

Total airport resurfacing is expected to cost $15 million to $20 million, of which most will be covered by federal grants.

In fact, of the $26.7 million to be spent in 2017 for capital projects and equipment purchases, more than $20 million is expected to be covered by Federal Aviation Administration grants, with about $6 million coming from airport coffers.

Other spending in the capital plan includes $5 million to build a new transportation center where passengers can get to buses, taxis, ride-sharing providers or rental cars just outside the main terminal, and $10 million to build a bulk hangar that can house as many as a half-dozen more corporate jets. LVIA is home to 110 private planes and corporate jets, owned by companies such as D.G. Yuengling & Son of Pottsville, and Air Products and Chemicals Inc.

Source:   http://www.mcall.com

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