Port Authority plans airport improvements

VIENNA – Western Reserve Port Authority officials are hoping to know in coming months whether they will receive about $2.5 million in federal funds to help pay for half of this year’s planned improvements for the airport’s taxiways.

The port authority has applied for Federal Aviation Administration discretionary airport improvement program funds to help fund the project that will improve taxiway visibility for pilots and reduce congestion near the terminal apron.

Airport engineering consultant Doug Saunders of C&S Companies told port authority members on Wednesday that the project will require shutdown of the airport’s main runway overnight for several months while the project is under way in the spring and summer months. Saunders and airport Director of Aviation Dan Dickten said the temporary overnight closures should not affect any flights.

The airport intends to fund the remaining $2.5 million for the project largely with funds provided by the FAA for annual airport upkeep.

Additional traffic signals, lighting and drainage also are included in what Dickten described largely as a “safety project.”

On an unrelated project, workers were continuing their work welding pieces for a larger baggage return conveyer belt. A $375,000 upgrade to the baggage return area has been described as one of the improvements passengers will most appreciate. That’s because it will alleviate the congestion as passengers attempt to claim their baggage after landing at the Vienna terminal.

Work on the project began Jan. 7 and is expected to wrap up within two weeks, shortly ahead of schedule, Dickten said. In the interim, Winner Aviation ground handling crews have been bringing return baggage to the terminal front curbside for passengers to pick up.

The project is being funded by 2011 bonds initiated for various terminal improvement projects.

The airport is projecting a significant increase this year in the number of passengers flying in and out of the local airport, with predictions reaching as high as 90,000.

Dickten said 77,327 passengers flew in and out of the airport in 2012.

Dickten said he is continuing to meet with potential airlines about the possibility of landing daily connector service to larger airports such as Washington Dulles, Chicago, Newark, Detroit or Philadelphia.

Travel bank pledges collected over the period of several months by airport officials ended with $6.3 million worth of non-binding commitments. That is nearly twice the original goal of $3.5 million.

A travel bank is a collection of pledges from travelers indicating how much they would use the local airport if daily service was available. It is a marketing tool used by airports to help land increased commercial flights.