By Karen Blackledge
The Daily Item
RIVERSIDE — Todd Aungst inherited his grandfather's love of flying, a passion that has translated into a 25-year career in aviation that is continuing at the Danville Airport.
Aungst's late grandfather, Frank Aungst, soloed as a pilot in 1936 in the Pine Grove area. "My dad was 8 years old at the time," he said.
His grandfather flew as a recreational pilot and worked for PPL in that area. He later moved his family to Snyder County to transfer to a job at PPL's Shamokin Dam plant.
Aungst, a 1978 Selinsgrove Area High School graduate who owns Penn-Selin Air Inc., was named fixed-base operator in January of the Danville Airport, which is in Riverside.
"At Danville, we are making a concentrated effort to teach people to fly," he said.
His business also employs a mechanic who does maintenance work at the Northumberland County Airport, near Elysburg. Penn-Selin also offers flight instruction at that airport.
Penn-Selin was contracted by Penn Valley Airport from 1987 through September 2008, when Penn-Selin relocated to the Northumberland County Airport.
Aungst said the move to the Danville Airport gave him the opportunity to relocate his training airplane closer to the Danville, Milton and Lewisburg areas.
Pilot Ross Van Horn serves as flight instructor at the Danville Airport. He has worked for Penn-Selin for four years.
Aungst received his pilot's certificate in 1978 at Penn Valley Airport and started his business in 1987.
He is a pilot examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration, where he conducts the practical test and issues pilot certificates. Aungst also is chief pilot for a major corporation in the area, having been employed in that capacity for 18 years.
Penn-Selin trains pilots in a variety of ratings, including student, recreational, private, commercial, air transport and instrument rating.
Pilots need to be 16 in order to solo and 17 to obtain a private pilot certificate. "What's unique about our operation is we're small and can dedicate our time on an individual basis to our students. Every student and every pilot has uniquely different abilities, and we have to be able to adapt to those types of changes," said Aungst, whose business has trained more than 250 pilots in some facet. Currently, they have 25 people undergoing training.
While his main interest is the flight school at the Danville Airport, he said he has a strong interest in developing a maintenance facility there as well.
The airport, which is owned by Northumberland and Montour counties, has a 3,000-foot-long paved runway. Its four hangars house 30 planes.
Craig Lawler, co-chairman of the airport authority with Jack Shalongo, said the airport needs to be an economic development tool and a source of jobs and of economic activity. "Studies in Ohio have shown that for every $1 spent at small airports, $4 or $5 comes back as added revenues," he said.
"One of the first things businesses wanting to relocate to an area ask is where is the nearest airport. Who gets in and out of that corporate jet is important in locating jobs," he said.
Lawler said the airport needs to have an instrument approach in order to attract more business.
"We're on the list for it," he said of the approach, which would be developed by the FAA. "An instrument approach is critical to economic development."
The key to the approach would be removing trees on several acres on the eastern end of the property, Lawler said.
Lawler commended the volunteers at the airport. "The volunteer spirit has been incredible here. A bunch of guys have stepped up to the plate and have been super to make sure it works and it has been truly impressive," he said of a core group of a half dozen.
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