Airport History

 

Airport History

ERIE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
TOM RIDGE FIELD

History

In the early 1920’s Erie’s Griswold started a small airfield at the intersection of West Lake Road and Asbury Road. In 1925 the US Department of Commerce, Airways Section, Office of the Chief of Air Services, Washington, D.C. licensed the Griswold Landing Field as a Commercial Airport under the name of Great Lakes Airways, Inc., PA. That was eight years before the establishment of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), the forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The airport was among the earliest in the nation to be licensed as a commercial airport. The Airport today holds an official copy of the Aeronautical Bulletin detailing the information on Griswold Landing Field.

In 1929 Carl Litzenberger and Fred Downing Jr., using land owned by Downing, and renting additional land at the airport, began operating an airport at the present site of the Erie International Airport.

In 1933 it was turned over to George L. Aulenbaucher and Phoebe S. Aulenbaucher, his wife and Louie J. Aulenbaucher and Shirley M. Aulenbaucher, his wife.

On January 15, 1936 the mayor, Charles R. Barber announced that the City of Erie planned to sponsor under the Work Projects Administration, a Class A – 1 Municipal Airport for Erie, which would meet all government flying regulations. Through an agreement with the owners of the property they had agreed to deed their holdings to the City and in turn would be given a Lease to operate the proposed municipal airfield. The City had agreed to sponsor the project, which would cost a few thousand dollars for the City’s share of the project.

In March of 1936 it was announced that engineers of the Federal Government were to make a survey of the field and that the Work Projects Administration had estimated an approximate cost of $491,000 for the project which the City and County would spend a combined amount of approximately $25,000. On April 16, 1936 it was announced that The Federal Government approved the Class A – 1 airport for Erie.

On April 25, 1936 the City of Erie and County divided the cost to purchase an additional 32.47 acres more or less of land adjoining Port Erie on the West Lake Road from Earl Deighton for approximately $11,000 in order to receive a class A –1 rating for the Erie field by the United States Department of Commerce and the Work Projects Administration Pennsylvania Bureau of Aeronautics.

Pursuant of the above arrangement was dated May 13, 1936 and subsequently the Aulenbaucher’s caused a Corporation to be formed, named Port Erie incorporated, dated June 20, 1941 and amended on September 12, 1941 and said corporation thereafter operated the airport under an operating agreement between the City and Port Erie Incorporated from the date of said agreement.

On May 21, 1936 the Airport began improvements under the Works Projects Administration and continued through 1946, the city bought adjacent lands, expanded the field and installed a drainage system, constructed hard surface runways and a hangar which was used to house up to 26 planes and was 80 ft. by 120 ft. The original terminal building was located at the west end of the airport off of Asbury Road.

On September 24, 1937 the first passenger plane took off from the revamped Port Erie Lanes. They left for New York, with Gerald Richardson at the controls. The passengers were Mr. And Mrs. Joseph Zeisinheim and Mr. And Mrs. Neil McCray.

On Thursday, October 7, 1937 an article appeared in the Erie, PA paper with the caption “Airport Floodlights are Brilliant Spectacle”. It went on to describe the Port as being one of the finest lighted airports in the nation, making the filed nearly as light as day and assured perfect visibility for planes taking off or landing. It went on to say that lonely onset of lights the flood reflectors on the south and north sides of the field, still remained to be installed and work on those were to be completed within the week. They were 3,000- volt bulbs constructed in two banks with five 3,000 – volt bulbs in each bank. The boundary lights, runway markers, obstacle lights, apron floodlights, ceiling projectors and hangar lights were already completed.

The first airmail to be picked up in Erie was on Thursday, May 19, 1938 by American Airlines. Thirty planes from Erie City and County, Meadville, Warren, Sheffield, Titusville, Corry, North East, Mercer, Greenville and other nearby ports participated by collecting mail and delivering it to the Erie Airport on Wednesday, may 18, 1938. The pilots were only licensed for one day to carry mail for the celebration of the new airmail service in Erie.

In 1947 the airport became one of he first in the nation to install an Instrument landing System (ILS). The second ILS was installed in December of 1951, which made Erie among the first airports of its size in the nation to have two operating ILS units.

On October 19, 1948 the City created an advisory committee consisting of seven members, to coordinate between the Port Erie Airport and the City Council.

On November 28, 1950 Erie City Council approved an ordinance calling for the formation of an Airport Authority, pursuant to the provision of the Municipality Authorities Act of 1945 the Act of May 2, 1945 P.L. 382 (the “Act”.) On January 23, 1951 pursuant to the above desire, the Authority was incorporated. The incorporating official’s were mayor Clairence K. Pulling, Councilmen Kenneth W. Momeyer, Raymond J. Wagner, Thomas M. McCarthy and Charles G. Downing.

On April 20, 1951 the city purchased the Port Erie Corporation rights, title, properties, equipment, interests and so forth in said operating agreement back from the Aulenbaucher’s for the sum of $75,000 plus a $9,500 note held by the Company, which cancelled all other agreements. On May 1, 1951 the Authority assumed the takeover.

At the formation of the Erie Municipal Airport Authority, Mr. Roy C. Mauer was elected president of the Board. He was president and retired chairman of the board of the First National Bank of Erie, former treasurer of the American Cancer Society, and had served on the Board of Incorporators of both Hamot and St. Vincent Hospitals.

The first five board members of the Airport Authority, under the city ordinance were: Roy C. Mauer, President, William P. Johnson, Jr., Vice President, Fred B. Downing, Jr., Secretary, Edwin W. nick, Treasurer, and Thomas M. MaCarthy.

On November 18, 1951 it was announced that Mr. Roger Sekadlo was hired as the first Airport Manager on a full-time basis. He was a WWII Pilot of Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Mr. Sekadlo joined the Air Force in April of 1943 graduated from pilot school a year later and was assigned to duty in the Aleutian Islands. After his discharge in June of 1946, he studied mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin for two years. After serving with the U.S. Weather Bureau for one year at Green Bay, Wisconsin Airport, he enrolled in the airport management and flight training school at Purdue University. He graduated from Purdue where he also was employed at the University airport that summer. He was married and his full-time appointment went into effect immediately.

In January of 1952, the first snow blower was purchased for $25,000 and was built by Secard Inc. of Watertown, N.Y. This was a major step for progress since the Airport could be snowbound for as much as 30 days at a time.

On May 13, 1952 the City of Erie deeded the Erie Municipal Airport Authority approximately 270.74 acres of acquired lands for airports purpose which included the Aulenbaucher’s 100.351 acres by voluntary deeds, consisting of lands, improvements, equipment, facilities and so forth.

In June of 1952 the construction started at a cost of $50,000 for a flight school and maintenance of the Erie Aviation, Inc., at the Erie Municipal Airport. Erie Aviation, Inc., owned by C.L. McMillan, a graduate of Columbia University and a former Lieutenant Commander in the navy. Mr. McMillan conducted University and a former Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Mr. McMillan conducted a flying school for Erie Aviation, Inc. The two new hangars were completed in September of 1952 and occupied on October 1, 1952. One of the structures was used as an operational hangar, while the other housed a repair shop under the supervision of Earl Derian.

Under the new administration the Airport began scheduled passenger service in 1953 by Capital Airlines, followed in 1955 by Allegheny Airlines and in 1956 Mohawk Airlines began service. In 1964 lake Central Airlines became the forth-commercial carrier operation but Capital ceased operations. In 1965 lake Central began the first turbo-prop air service, followed in 1966 by Mohawk and in 1969 by Allegheny Airlines.

In May of 1954 Captain John B. Farver of the 325th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, won the distinction of being the pilot of the first jet-propelled plane a T – 33-jet trainer to land at the Erie Airport.

On October 17, 1955, The U.S. Weather Bureau leased facilities at the Airport with Mr. Arvid S. Klemetsmo as the Weather Chief.

On September 15, 1956 construction started at Port Erie Airport on the west side of the field in the hangar area for the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The building was 40 x 50 and housed the CAP’s single plane office.

Construction began on the terminal building on October 3, 1956 at a cost of $6,660,000 and was built by E.E. Austin and Son of Erie, PA. It was constructed of brick, aluminum and glass. The design was by Nelson, Goldberg, & Heidt of Erie, PA. It was 225 ft. by 70 ft. and constructed so future expansion could be carried out easily. The control tower was built four stories high. The control tower opened for business on December 17, 1957 and the terminal opened for business on September 4, 1958 with a dedication on September 6 and 7, 1958. More than 50,000 people went to view the Airport Terminal at its dedication.

The terminals first restaurant opened for business on September 4, 1958 and was named the Dutch Pantry a 158-seat restaurant. They leased the space for $15,000 a year, invested $70,000 in equipment and furnishings, employed 30 people and served some of the finest food to be found in the area. This was the seventh Dutch Pantry Restaurant in Pennsylvania and Florida. The manager was James Laskaris and the Assistant manager was Jerry Moore.

In April of 1958, the Erie Municipal Airport Authority awarded a $500,000 contract specifying general construction of a commercial area and other service to Keystone Construction Co. of Meadville, PA. For the following work: resurfacing of the 1,600-ft. north-south runway, construction of a concrete loading apron in front of the new terminal building, three new taxiways, an extension connecting the runway to he loading apron, two parking areas, circular driveways for terminal access, installation of storm sewers, water lines and hydrants, and the fencing off and landscaping of the improved area. Resurfacing of the north-south runway involved the placement of 5,900 tons of special bituminous material, which had been specified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

In 1960 County Deputy Sheriff’s at the airport policed the Airport Authority. They were posted 24 hours a day and were unarmed.

The maintenance and Emergency Equipment Building was erected in 1960 for $69,390. Five snowplows and snow blowers valued at over $200,000 plus a foam fire truck and other related equipment, shop and storage facilities were located in this building. The Westlake Fire Department and Police Departments of the City of Erie and Millcreek Township and the Pennsylvania State Police all provided assistance in the event of an aircraft emergency.

In 1968, the U.S. Customs Service building was constructed and the Airport attained its international classification.

An enlarged baggage claim area was built in about 1970 costing $35,000.

On January 18, 1973 the Authority hired Mr. Bruce Reeder, a retired Pennsylvania State Police officer and ex-County Prison Warden for the position of Chief of Security officer at a salary of $130.00 pre week. This was required under the provisions of a new Federal Security Law. On February 6, 1973 the federal security measure went into effect mandating that all airport security be armed under the new domestic anti-hijacking program.

This measure included electronic screening of all passengers and an inspection of all carry on baggage and the posting of armed guards at the loading area of all airports.

On May 26, 1973 a Runway Expansion project was awarded to Mayer Brothers Construction Company at a cost of $888,510. The 6,000’ runway 6-24 was extended an additional 500’ and included some extensions to adjoining taxiway work. The project used 47,000 tons of asphalt layered in five passes was nine inches in depth. The construction work was equivalent to over 70 miles of regular highway.

On September 20, 1973 a new wing was built on the second floor of the terminal for the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Division and the Federal Aviation Administration Airways Facilities Division at a cost of $180,000.

In August of 1977 the first Radar-Weather tower was installed at Erie International Airport. The tower is 82’ high and cost over $150,000.

On July 7, 1989 the groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Airport for the 2.3 million parking lot-access road. The construction of a new parking lot and re-configuration of the airport access road was handled by Mayer Bros. Construction Co. while the RELCO Co. installed the new traffic signal. The parking lot almost doubled the accommodations of the previous lot.

In 1990 constructing a $325,000 addition was added to the west end of the terminal building for an additional airline ticket counter area.

A new US customs building was constructed in 1991 at the west end of the terminal building.

In 1992 and 1993 the Airport had several major improvement projects. They realigned a taxiway-closed runway 10-28 added and renumbered all of the taxiways, placed new signage on the entire airfield and milled and overlaid the main runway.

In 1999 and 2000 the terminal main lobby area was remodeled, the rental car agencies were located with an addition space added and a new baggage claim area was installed along with a new baggage make up area.

The Erie International Airport purchased two buildings, Fenestra and Penn-Brass on the south side of the airport on West 12th street. The Fenestra building was purchased in May of 2000 and Penn-Brass was purchased on April 10, 2000. These buildings will be turned into an International Freight Center.

In 2001, the airport made improvements to the passenger parking area, relocated the tenant employee parking area and built a new rental car service facility.

The airport secured a foreign trade zone status for all airport property and secured a Keystone Opportunity Zone status, which excludes businesses from paying state taxes for the next 13 years.

In 2002 an expansion project has begun at the boarding gates to allow for three new Jetways. This will better accommodate the planes flying in and out of the Erie International Airport.

Future projects include improvements in the air operations area, the Powell Avenue relocation project, and the extension of the main runway.

The Erie International Airport currently has two airlines. US Airways Express: Has Dash 8, turboprops 6-100’s and 5-300’s daily with an average of 250 passengers daily. The Dash 8, 100’s hold 37 passengers and the 300’s hold 50 passengers. Northwest Mesaba Airlines: Has Saab 340, and two CRJ/Jets with a total of five flights daily with an average of 100 passengers daily. Seating comps is from 34-50 passengers.

We have US customs, US Immigrations, National Weather Service; an FBO called North Coast Air, North Coast Air Flight School, Northern Flights a Charter Service and various tenants with aviation business. We have three rental car facilities Avis, Budget and National and one restaurant called “The Landing Zone”.

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