With the loss of its fixed base operator, flight school, rental aircraft and mechanics over the past two years, the Penn Valley Airport, just north of Selinsgrove, is facing logistical and fiscal turbulence.

In August, the airport authority, a group of nine local municipalities that own the airport, ended a contract with Energy Aviation after two years of what Bruce Witkop, chairman of the Penn Valley Airport Authority, described as poor and reduced services. Air traffic has declined about 25 percent over the past two years.

The challenges are forcing the airport to seek increased funding from its authority member municipalities, including Union and Snyder counties, Selinsgrove, Shamokin Dam, Middleburg, Northumberland and Sunbury as well as Monroe and Penn townships in Snyder County.

We certainly hope the airport locates and implements the support it needs.

Small public airports like Penn Valley, the Northumberland County Airport near Elysburg and the Danville Regional Airport in Riverside all make huge contributions to the economic health of the region.

The Federal Aviation Administration calls the 2,952 general aviation landing facilities, including 2,903 airports, 10 heliports and 39 seaplane bases across the nation, a “national asset.”

Most of us are familiar with the 378 primary airports — including those in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and New York — that offer scheduled commercial air service.

But as the FAA notes, more than 2,900 other smaller facilities provide valuable services and potential life-saving capabilities, including medical flights, emergency response, aerial firefighting support, disaster relief, search and rescue. One of Geisinger’s Life Flight medical helicopters is now based at Penn Valley.

The Penn Valley Airport and other general aviation facilities also support and attract business and commercial activity by providing time-saving access to our region, agricultural support, aerial surveying and observation, a base for survey and inspection services, business and executive flight services.

“Together these 2,952 general aviation airports form an extensive network and make important economic contributions to society,” the FAA writes in its report, “General Aviation Airports: A National Asset.”

Unable to attract another fixed-base operator, the Penn Valley Airport Authority has taken over day-to-day management. Witkop said that without more funding from significant users and the nine municipal owners, it will be difficult to move forward. The airport faces more than $1 million in needed facility repairs in addition to reviving its services.

“We are now at base-level service,” Witkop told us this past week. The airport has hired two former Wood-Mode employees, and together, they are maintaining the facility’s grounds and pumping fuel.

Without additional funding, the 73-year-old public airport may have to increase fees or reduce services even more.

That would be a true setback for economic development throughout the region. We encourage state and federal lawmakers from our region to join with elected officials from the nine member municipalities as well as area businesses and industries in recognizing the importance of Penn Valley Airport and initiating concerted efforts to get this important facility back on a flight plan for continuing service and future success.

NOTES: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.

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