Arnold Palmer Regional Airport is slated to resume round-trip flights from the Unity Township facility to Orlando, Florida, starting next month.
While the Orlando flights returned May 3 following a nearly month-long shutdown of commercial service at the airport, the current flights — which are available on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays — have used a circular route using airports in Unity Township, Pittsburgh and Orlando.
Spirit Airlines spokesman Field Sutton said in an email that direct flights from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport to Orlando will begin June 11.
“We continue to monitor demand throughout our route network and look forward to adding additional service as that demand returns,” he said of Spirit, the airport’s lone commercial carrier.
Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, which operates the Unity Township airport, said in an email that the return of the flights has been well received. He noted that Orlando flights for the next two Thursdays — May 14 and 21 — are fully booked and he said the rest of the available flights “have good loads so far.”
“It’s kind of nice seeing two days that are fully booked,” airport authority chairman Paul Puleo said during Tuesday’s board meeting, which was held remotely by phone. “Hopefully, in the next month or so, we can get back to some normalcy.”
Monzo said no details are available about future flight schedules or when service to the airport’s other pre-pandemic destinations — including Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers in Florida along with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — may resume.
As a result of halting commercial flights in early April because of coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns, Arnold Palmer Regional Airport had just 423 passengers last month, according to authority figures. In the first three months of 2020, the airport recorded more than 65,000 passengers.
Monzo noted that the airport authority is taking precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the airport’s terminal building.
He said anyone that comes into the terminal building, including those who use the airport’s shuttles to enter, are asked to wear face masks. Employees are also required to wear masks.
Additionally, he said the airport is using one entrance to enter the terminal and that hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the building.
Monzo said previously that airport officials had installed plastic shields between passengers and counter employees. He added that separation footprints are in place as a way to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet.
The return of the Orlando flights has continued safeguards the airport introduced in the early stages of the pandemic, Monzo said. That includes regular cleaning and sanitation of the terminal building, not conducting flight reservations at the airline counter and other measures.
“This terminal building looks better than it has in 20 years. It’s spotless,” Monzo said. “We purchased a spray sanitizer, and we’re using it in the bathrooms, throughout the terminal building and the passenger bridges, anywhere the public passes through, after flights.
“People who are arriving in Latrobe with checked bags, they pick them up outside, under the canopy, not in the baggage carousel, so we don’t collect a large amount of people there.”
Monzo said the airport authority has applied for funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is seeking $2.4 million for the Palmer airport, adding that the funds can be used for expenses such as payroll and other bills.
“We’ll see when it comes,” he said.
In other business, the authority awarded a $5.12-million bid to improve three taxiways at the airport to Derry Construction Co. The work, which is the third phase of the facility’s runway strengthening and widening project, is being done to avoid connecting from the runway to the main airport ramp, where passengers board and exit planes.
Officials said work on the taxiway adjustments won’t begin until the authority is approved for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding.
Monzo told the airport authority that the airport’s runway widening project is moving along, with contractor Golden Triangle Construction working 10-hour shifts in the evening and early morning hours when commercial flights aren’t scheduled.
He added that Tom Stynchula, a retired airport employee, has been overseeing overnight operations at the airport.
“We’re very happy to have him back,” Monzo said.
The project, which is being funded through three separate FAA grants, will widen the runway from 100 feet to 150 feet. Officials have said the upgrades will help pilots land during inclement weather events and enable the airport to avoid diverting flights to other facilities. Removing snow from behind the runway lights will be aided with new 20-foot shoulders. A two-week shutdown of the airport is planned in September for work on the project.
The airport authority on Tuesday approved two change orders related to the project that reduced the total cost to $11.72 million, including a $250,000 deduction to Golden Triangle’s contract for construction schedule changes and an additional $23,400 for federally-mandated wiring and permit modifications.
Also related to the project, the airport authority approved the following subcontracts: $1.47 million to Wellington Power Corp.; $396,972 to Parking Lot Painting Company; $103,630 to The U Company; $40,829 to Matcon Diamond Inc.; $30,464 to North Suburban Tree Service; and $28,408 to Cardinal International Grooving & Grinding LLC.
The airport authority also awarded a contract of just over $410,000 to Lutterman Excavating for a terminal apron strengthening project. The work, which will entail replacing the asphalt surface with concrete, is slated to begin next month.
In other business, the airport authority approved to seek bids for work to relocate the airport’s rental car offices to a new addition along the outside wall of the baggage return area. Authority engineer Scott Kunselman said the work will allow for the expansion of the secure room holding area, as well as the reconstruction of a parking area in order to increase the number of parking spaces at the airport. The project also calls for the installation of a paid parking control system in a section of the parking lot to the southwest of the terminal building.