Lawrence County and New Castle Airport officials let businesses and industries know that the skies above New Castle are friendly and open for business.
This seemingly quiet hub of an airport serves many purposes and, in fact, sees almost 45,000 take-offs and landings a year, from leisure planes to private planes to small business jets.
On rare occasions, it serves an important purpose as a hub for transporting donated organs for transplants.
“It’s not that common that it happens all the time, but enough that it’s significant,” said James Farris, chairman of the New Castle Airport Authority. Farris is also a deputy coroner.
“A lot of times it’s corneal tissue or skin that comes straight out of New Castle, especially if it goes further than Pittsburgh or Cleveland,” he said. “Otherwise, they are transported by helicopter directly from the hospitals. But in extreme situations, there may be a heart that flies to a destination city. If you harvest multiple organs, they blow the whole body off in some cases.
“It’s all about timing,” Farris said.
And it’s not just air flights that are involved in this eventful operation that has existed for 94 years. New Castle Municipal Airport has also grown over the decades to provide aircraft repair and maintenance services, flight instruction, hangar hire – currently for 59 aircraft based there, lessons and flight tests, and an online airline shopping business.. It also serves as a helipad for emergency helicopter landings, to transport seriously injured or ill people to larger hospitals.
“The public needs to understand how important the airport really is,” Farris said, pointing out that the plans are to keep it growing.
Marty Haski, director of aviation operations at the airport, agrees, noting, “It’s more than a rich man’s playground.
The airport also has the unique advantage of a crosswind runway, which allows air flights regardless of weather conditions.
Airport planning and operations are overseen by a seven-member Airport Authority, appointed by County Commissioners. The board is made up of volunteers who have a vested interest in flight and operations and they are constantly planning new improvements and seeking federal and state funding to make them happen.
In addition to these projects, a new movement led by county commissioners is to secure funds from various other state and federal funding streams to enable other expansion projects as economic development incentives in the county.
Lawrence County Commissioner’s Chairman Morgan Boyd, who is taking flying lessons himself, is working with the authority and director of aviation operations Marty Haski to solidify plans and actively seek funding for three phases of airfield projects. expansion designed to allow more air freight here.
Commissioners gave the airport $150,000 earlier this year as seed capital to attract more grants and continue these improvements.
The first phase, already on the drawing board, is the renovation and expansion of the 55-year-old terminal building, to eventually include a restaurant with an alfresco dining and seating terrace and a rooftop lounge. , meeting and banquet halls and educational space that could be used as a site for a community college flight school.
The existing terminal was built in 1967 and dedicated in 1968, Haski said, and an addition was built in 1993.
“The new terminal will be a stand-alone building and will have great views of the runways,” he said, and the existing building will remain for other uses.
Farris expects construction of the terminal to begin within the year and be completed by the end of 2023.
Phase two will consist of lengthening the main runway, compensating for a five-foot length discrepancy identified by the FAA, Farris explained. An aerial measurement of the length of the runway conflicts with long-standing ground surveys, and this runway is actually very short, he said, but the actual plans are to lengthen the stretch by around 400 feet, per FAA specifications, to allow for greater and more efficient cargo operations. This phase would likely be complete by the end of 2025, Farris said.
Boyd anticipates that the first two phases would be done “quickly,” pending the availability of state and federal funds.
The third phase would be to extend the main runway even further to 3,995 feet, to accommodate larger aircraft. That runway would be extended to over 5,000 feet, Farris explained.
“But without phase three, we can still achieve what we need to do,” he said, noting that the intention is not to bring in commercial airlines, but ultimately to provide a better access to runways and to accommodate larger business and cargo aircraft.
Farris identified freight as the transportation of any locally produced materials or products that are shipped or distributed by industrial or commercial enterprises, or goods and products that need to be shipped to them.
The airport as it exists can handle small-scale cargo, “but we want to scale it up,” Farris said. “This will give more viability to a territory promoting the economic development of the entire region.
“The commissioners have identified the airport as vital to economic development,” Farris said. He touted the airport as the only local airport in the state that operates without the aid of municipal funding.
“We want to invest to promote future self-sufficiency,” he said.
Haski pointed out that the airport has nearly 400 acres of land, with plenty of road frontage, and has moderate commercial development potential.
Boyd pointed out that the county has identified the airport as one of three economic development priorities, along with the planned development of an industrial park at the Stonecrest Golf Course in Wampum, and the potential development of an industrial park by the Regional Industrial Development Corporation which is on the drawing board of Mahoning Township.
The common thread for all three is to make the county’s position ideal for transportation and freight, he said. “We expect heavy investment in these areas to foster economic development, and the airport is truly a reflection of the community.
The hope is that the airport improvements will spur growth and development on and around the airport grounds, he said.
“We’ve been in contact with a number of developers trying to find someone to build storage space on airport property,” Boyd said. “We want to turn the airport into a hub for logistics operations.”
The airport is home to Haski Aviation, a fixed-base operation run by Haski, which offers a flight school, maintenance service for servicing local aircraft, fuel sales, and an online store called SkySupplyUSA. com, which sells pilot supplies including headsets, aircraft. parts, flight tools, sunglasses, flight bags and a variety of aviation themed collectibles, gifts and toys.
Haski is a designated pilot examiner at the scene as one of four in western Pennsylvania. It also conducts knowledge exams for the FAA.
Community College of Beaver County has approximately 4,500 students enrolled in professional pilot and air traffic control aviation programs.
“We do testing for these students,” Haski said, adding, “we literally do hundreds of tests a year.”
The airport also leases aircraft associated with the flight school and Haski sub-leases charter services upon request.
And when pilots and passengers land at the airport without transportation, the airport provides a crew car to take people to their local motels or restaurants at no charge. There is also a link to Enterprise and Hertz vehicle rentals.
The airport also runs around-the-clock takeoff and landing operations, Haski said. He noted that business travel had declined largely due to COVID-19, but is now on the rise. The economic impact of the airport is estimated at $6 million per year.
Haski explained that the airport is required to update its master plan every 10 to 12 years and must be approved by the FAA and PennDOT. The authority is in the middle of it now.
“It’s your plan for the next 10 years,” he said, adding, “These are great times, and you want to be ready for the future now before it happens. The airport is truly a reflection of the community.
HOW IT STARTED
According to a story provided by Haski, ownership of the airport was acquired in 1928 by the late aviation enthusiast D. Roy Bradford. Bradford sold his interest in the land in 1932, and Findley C. Wilson, who lived in Slippery Rock Township, took over management of the airport in 1934, and he built several new hangars and purchased additional land. His wife, Maxine “Mickey” Wilson, became a pilot, and in May 1938 she was the first woman in Lawrence County to undertake solo flight.
During World War II, Findley Wilson trained over 2,500 local college graduates for flying service with the Navy and Army. He ran the airport until he and Maxine moved to Florida in the late 1950s when he sold his interests and the city became the sole owner of the airport.
New Castle native Frank J. Farone, a local pharmacist and former Army Air Corps aviator, took over management of the airport in 1960. The airport authority was established in 1956 and Farone served on the authority until 1985.
The airport’s mission and scope has always been to serve as an air transportation gateway to Lawrence County, according to the history sheet. Airport users pay all costs for its operations and today it is considered one of the best examples of public and private companies working together to provide community service at no cost to city ratepayers or County.