University Park, Pa.— Nearly 100 University administrators, state leaders and community members gathered at the University Park Airport to recognize the completion of its new airport traffic control tower.
Through the efforts of airport staff, elected officials, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation and several other groups, the airport was able to build and will soon operate the 82-foot building. The new tower was unveiled at an opening ceremony on Dec. 7 and is expected to begin operations in January.
"This new control tower is an important economic and safety tool for University Park Airport and our region," Airport Director Bryan Rodgers said. "Safety is always the No. 1 priority for airport operations. The control tower will dramatically enhance safety for aircraft that operate at University Park Airport and at surrounding airports. The control tower also makes the airport more attractive to corporate operators and perhaps additional commercial carriers."
State and University leaders spoke at the event about the immense benefits provided by the control tower. University President Graham Spanier and Board of Trustees Chair Steve Garban discussed the importance of the control tower to Penn State.
"Since the early days, the airport has thrived," Spanier said. "It's unusual for a university to own and run an airport, but we have a unique place in the region … and the tower makes our region more attractive to growth industries."
Garban reminisced about the humble beginnings of the airport. He spoke of the days when deer had to be chased off the runway and how excited he was to see the airport grow to one of the most successful airport facilities in the state.
"All of these people (who worked on this project) had the community in mind," he said. "The Board of Trustees was delighted to approve the tower."
Out of the 15 commercial airports in the state, University Park Airport is the sixth busiest in terms of passenger enplanements. Over the past 24 years, passenger levels have increased 179 percent, peaking in 2007 at 144,160.
The airport's growth has been above average compared to most regional airports, which Rodgers attributes to the growth in the region and the installation of Interstate 99 through the area. The airlines serving the airport -- Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways -- fly to several major cities.
Sen. Jake Corman talked about the role of federal and state funding in the project. He recalled memories of flying out of a much smaller airport as a Penn State student and said he is proud to be part of its advancement. He added that research and infrastructure were two areas that are most important to the growth of the Commonwealth.
"This (project) was a major investment that was needed," Corman said. "It's a good example that if we all work together we can get great things done."
Joe Beigle of the Centre County Airport Authority (CCAA) told the brief history of the airport and shared remarks on the importance of the control tower to the local organization. He commented on the partnership between the University and the CCAA, and Rodgers' hard work in making the tower a reality.
Mead & Hunt Inc. of Madison, Wis., designed the control tower. It is adjacent to the airline terminal building and stands 82-feet high. The structure will provide 6,600 square feet of new space to support the functions of up to six air traffic controllers. The total project cost is approximately $5.5 million with funds coming from the FAA, the state capital budget, a state aviation development grant and the CCAA.
Work on the control tower began on Nov. 9, 2009. It will be set for operation by early 2011 under the FAA Federal Contract Tower (FCT) Program. Nearly 250 airports in 46 states participate in the FCT Program, which provides essential air traffic safety services.
"After extensive analysis, the FAA determined that the benefits of having a control tower here at University Park Airport outweighed the cost nearly two to one," Rodgers said. "A lot of factors are taken into account. I am pleased that the control tower is built and that it will soon be operational."