Venango Regional Airport
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Business View Magazine interviews Bill R. Buchna, Director of Venango Regional Airport in Pennsylvania, for our focus on General Aviation in the U.S.
Venango County in western Pennsylvania is home to an idyllic little getaway – the scenic country community of Franklin that fills with apple blossoms each spring and brings in hundreds of thousands to its Apple Festival each fall. This historic rural region has been a charming and desirable destination for well over a century… growth is measured, not too fast, and folks like it that way. That being said, the local airport is keen to welcome new business to the area.
As Venango Regional Airport Director, Bill R. Buchna, describes, “This is the gateway to northwest Pennsylvania; kind of a rural area right off Interstate 80. The airport sits up on the hill and then you drive down into Franklin. We have hiking, walking, and biking. It’s an outdoorsy kind of place with a very nice, vibrant economic center.”
Venango Regional Airport is a certified part 139 airport that until quite recently saw daily commercial service under the Essential Air Service Program. It works hard to maintain that certification, but for the time being, relies on a healthy mix of corporate and recreational flying.
“We’ve got a pretty nice base here of people that have their planes stationed at Venango Regional,” says Buchna, “and we get a fair amount of jet traffic, with charter jets in here quite frequently. We also have a couple of colleges real close, Grove City College and Slippery Rock College, so we have guests flying in here to go down there and speak at different events. There are also some businesses in the area that regularly use our airport. General Electric has a plant down in Grove City and we also have Komatsu, which is a worldwide manufacturer of mining equipment.”
Another interesting plane that is based on the field is the Beach City Baby, a restored Douglas C-53 from 1942 that makes the rounds to events at other airports and air shows. In addition, the Pennsylvania State Police fly their regional aircraft from Venango Regional, and Franklin Aircraft Sales is an aircraft reseller based at the airport. Buchna notes, “Quite a few people are flying in and out regularly.”
Venango Regional Airport is owned by Venango County and operates as its own FBO. The property covers an area of 420 acres and has two runways with asphalt surfaces: 03-21 is 5,201 by 150 feet with grooved pavement and 12-30 is 3,592 by 100 feet. Between 20 and 25 aircraft call Venango Regional home. Geographically, it serves both Franklin, which is two miles southwest of the airport, and Oil City which lies some 10 miles to the south.
As for capital improvements, Buchna reports, “Our main runway is due to be rehabbed here in the next couple of years. Next year, we will be working on the design and then move to construction the year after – this is all done in close collaboration with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Aviation who manage the state and federal grants. We are lucky that we have a great terminal in place, and we do all the work to keep up our certification, in case commercial traffic comes back. We currently have a ticketing counter and waiting area, our FBO operates out of the terminal, and we have a pilots’ waiting lounge – there is also a restaurant. We have a master plan in place, and we’re working hard to move forward with all the recommendations. One of the plans looking into the future, for example, is to lengthen our runway by about 700 feet. We have been purchasing property around the airport to help make that happen.”
Other recent infrastructure improvement work includes a resurfacing of the terminal apron, which was a $2.2 million project, and the current project which involves rehabilitation of the fuel farm. This will be a $1.05 million project that includes new tanks and self-service pumps. Completion is expected sometime in 2023.
The local area supports Venango Regional, and the airport helps with some popular community events to give something back. Each year the Experimental Aircraft Association puts on a “Wings and Wheels” event – people fly in to appreciate a car show, with vendors and displays set up on the airfield. According to Buchna, this past summer was the biggest Wings and Wheels ever. Also, every year for Applefest the airport operates as a central hub for people to fly in for the festival and then take provided shuttle transportation to the attractions. It is a huge event and draws a large crowd of enthusiasts.
When asked about the economic benefits the airport provides to both Venango County and the City of Franklin, Buchna points to a close working relationship with the County Commissioners and a desire to recognize the airport for what it is – an economic engine that drives tourism, as well as business growth in the area.
“The Commissioners have always been very supportive of Venango Regional,” Buchna explains, “and it is always at the forefront of our minds how to best utilize it. We’ve got some undeveloped land up here at the airport and we’ve been trying to find a use for it that would support a business that wanted to be close to the airport. It would be great to bring in some sort of cargo operation, and the commissioners have always been very open to the possibilities.”
Another organization that Venango Regional works very closely with – supporting the regional economy as well as tourism – is the Oil Region Alliance. The region is a National Historical Area, and the Alliance works hand in hand with the airport to support activities and growth.
“We take great pride in our airport,” Buchna emphasizes, “and in our community. We know what we have here, but we constantly have pilots commenting, especially the transient charter jet pilots, on what a nice little airport we have. We have transient hangar space and we also have all the emergency and snow removal equipment – even tugs and sand trucks – to ensure the runways are cleared and operational at all times.
Summing up his thoughts on what lies ahead for Venango Regional, Buchna shares, “We are well positioned as an airport for whatever the future brings. We have a good location and we have the infrastructure. Our commissioners are very supportive, and we are all working on trying to seize the opportunities that are before us. My plan going into the next few years is to continue to modernize the airport facilities, and to continue to keep it viable for whatever might come along in the future, whether it is commercial or cargo. Ultimately, I would like to be able to stand in my parking lot and look on our back forty and see somebody building a new business back there and utilizing the airport to bring in supplies.
“Because we have the I-80 just 14 miles down the road, and that goes across the country, I would love to see the county and the airport being that spoke and wheel hub for some distribution center. We have the facilities for it, and we have the desire, too. There is just so much we could be for our local area. Whether it be through the county government or just folks here at the airport, we would love to be that driver for our county and our local area.”
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AT A GLANCE
Venango Regional Airport
What: A public general aviation airport
Where: Near the City of Franklin in Venango County, Pennsylvania