New menu needed for airport

For now, the most important issue facing the Altoona-Blair County Airport is keeping daily passenger service alive.

Washington’s insistence that the airport’s federal government per-passenger subsidy drop below $200 – it currently is $255 – poses a big challenge for whatever carrier provides service beyond July 31.

Silver Airways of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., currently serves the airport, but that could cease if the subsidy issue can’t be resolved.

Meanwhile, no other airline apparently has come forward as a possible alternative to Silver. However, there still is time for that to occur; the deadline for proposals isn’t until March 11.

It’s now a game of wait-and-see.

Unfortunately, the future of passenger service isn’t the airport authority’s only headache. The other one involves what to do with the kitchen and dining room – formerly the Kitty Hawk Restaurant – on the second floor of the terminal building. Kitty Hawk closed in December 2011 when the owner/operator retired, although it reopened temporarily in 2012.

The Penn State Extension Service has an office at the terminal building and has used the kitchen for 4-H activities. Although an acceptable interim use, it’s not for the long term.

During a meeting on Feb. 10, authority Vice Chairman Gary Orner alluded to a possibility that might make sense. Orner said perhaps an event planner would be interested in arranging use of the facility.

But there might be a better alternative, if the authority has – or could set aside in the future – money for a consultant to study the entire terminal, to identify possible uses of space not needed for the air service. Even better, it would be admirable if a community-minded facilities planner – active or retired – would offer his or her services for free to conduct a study and make recommendations.

It’s a shame that the terminal building at any time during the normal business day, even in the evenings, operates with minimal activity and at times appears virtually abandoned.

Likewise, if the restaurant can be used as a site for wedding receptions, anniversary parties, family reunions or other special occasions, that might work out very well.

For too long, the empty restaurant has been nothing but empty. And at this point in the airport’s history, there’s no sign of success for such a facility.

So if someone wants to step forward and offer some additional ideas and options for use of space inside the airport terminal, that input would be most welcome. The fact that authority members are pondering what course of action to take with the restaurant represents a hopeful sign.

However, acknowledging the need for professional assistance beyond an event planner would be cause for greater optimism.