Venango Regional Airport
Northwestern Pennsylvania’s Hidden Economic Jewel
Meeting increasing aviation demand, Venango Regional Airport takes flight in 2023
Welcoming increased aviation traffic, as well as a host of initiatives to capture the upswing, The Venango Regional Airport is well positioned to prosper as we head towards the new year.
Located about two miles southwest of the quaint and charming community of Franklin, known as the Victorian City because of its lovely 19th-century architecture. In turn, Franklin is situated in Venango County, a rural locale just off I-80 & I-79 in the heart of what was once Pennsylvania’s oil country.
The County owns the airport and serves as its fixed-based operator (or FBO).
We recently caught up with Venango Regional Airport Director Bill Buchna, and he told us what’s new at this venerable, 73-year-old facility. It covers an area of 420 acres and has two asphalt runways that are 5,201 and 3,592 feet long. There is also a fine Italian restaurant, Primo Barone’s, on site offering dinner to the local community and transient aviators.
About 25 aircraft are housed there with additional hangars available. Buchna informs that jet traffic has increased in the last year. However, he adds, “What we’ve seen is general aviation has tailed off a little bit—at least, if you’re looking at the number of operations and fuel sales.”
The inflation of the post-COVID economy is a factor, as well as the high cost of fuel for general aviation. It’s always been high, but it’s nearly $7 a gallon on the East Coast, these days. This has had the result, Buchna notes, of pushing out a lot of recreational flights in the world of general aviation. These high fuel costs put a real damper on much aviation activity, he adds, and there’s a ripple effect throughout the entire industry.
On a more positive note, Pennsylvania enjoyed good weather this past summer, and that meant time for rehabbing at the airport. Repainting taxiway lines was one area of focus, per the standards of the Federal Aviation Administration part 139 requirements. Another was rehabilitating the airport’s fuel farm to the tune of some $1.05 million.
This large-scale project included replacing all the fuel tanks and piping. Plus, general aviators can now pump their own Avgas (100LL) thanks to the new self-service option. Further, the terminal apron enjoyed a recent resurfacing project of some $2.2 million.
In addition, post-COVID, labor shortages have been a factor with a big impact on the American economy. However, as Buchna points out, that has mercifully not been a local factor for the Venango Regional Airport.
“We’ve been pretty lucky over the last couple of years,” he shares. “We’ve hired three people, and we’ve still got two on board.”
Generally speaking, says Buchna, the airport maintains a full complement of staffers.
“We feel pretty good, as far as our manpower goes,” he adds, “but I would guess if we had to expand it at a drastic rate, for some reason, that we would probably feel some of that same pain as some of the large organizations do.”
Elsewhere, the airport has enjoyed something of a facelift. The terminal building had its entire roof replaced. “Which was a good thing,” says Buchna, “because our old roof was starting to wear out pretty good. We’d probably had it since the building was originally built.”
Uncompromising safety, as you might expect, is a top priority for the airport. Buchna says that continually ensuring the approaches are free of obstructions is a crucial matter, also in accord with FAA requirements.
Relatedly, he adds that the airport is ready to start the design phase of full runway rehabilitation. The main runway will get, milled, and resurfaced, and then will come all new lines, painting, markings, and more, all thanks to efforts approved by and funded by the FAA.
Talking of rehabbing, another rehab project includes turning an old hangar into a firefighter building. Buchna says it will need new siding, a new roof, and more to help keep the steel structure in place. Plus, new heating will also be needed. The upshot is the airport’s fire-truck will thus be nearer the terminal building, helping ensure greater safety.
Returning to the topic of high prices for aviation fuel, Buchna says it’s a challenge.
“It’s something that, when I look at my budget, I try to battle,” he says, “because you try to base your budget based on the prior years. When you look at my budget for this year, compared to last year, my fuel sales on the avgas (aviation gasoline) side have dropped tremendously. That pushes me to accept that reality and pay attention to other line items in my budget to make sure that I’m saving in other areas, trying to make up for the reduction in avgas sales.”
He continues that the end of the flying season (at least in the colder Northern states) is now fast approaching.
“In my part of the world, in December, January, and February, there isn’t a whole lot of flying going on,” he reveals, “so hopefully, we can get a little bit of a break with avgas pricing in the fall because a lot of people like to fly in the fall.”
“It would be nice to get a nice little bump at the end of the year, but I think I have to temper expectations and realize between when I did my budget last year and when I did my budget here recently that I can’t count on avgas sales being what they used to be. I’ve accepted that and tried to consider that and then try to adjust other parts of the budget to at least make up for some of that. We can’t make it all up. But we’re going to do our best to mitigate the pain.”
Then there’s the generation gap. Today’s young people simply don’t have the interest in aviation that their parents and grandparents did, as Buchna opines. This, too, could be a factor in the nationwide pilot shortage.
“As they get older,” he says, “we start losing a lot of that general aviation traffic, and we just don’t have the pipeline of young, interested aviators that want to have their planes and fly for joy and not business.”
There are definite advantages to having a county-owned airport. In the case of Venango Regional, which is owned by Venango County, one advantage is an on-site community recycling center. The County has revitalized and repurposed this site on airport property proper, as Buchna reveals.
“Every part of my operation involves the County,” he says. Fuel sales, hangar rentals, and those kinds of things provide the match required for the projects that we do, but the County still contributes a fair amount to our budget to operate the airport overall.”
Buchna also cited further improvements that may come in the future. Among these potential actions are HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) upgrades for the terminal building. Plus, in that same area of the airport, there could soon be a new parking lot for the general public. It all hinges on pending County approval, of course, as Buchna emphasizes.
“The County has always been very supportive of the airport,” he says, “and if I come to them and say, ‘Hey, I need this,’ they get it. They’re willing to support us and always have been. I feel very lucky to have the backing of the county commissioners to be able to lend that support and financial security. If something big happens, I know that they’ll do everything they can to help out.”
Buchna also looked to the airport’s future, especially as that pertains to its infrastructural needs.
“It’s coming into focus very quickly,” he says. “A lot of things are getting old, and they need to start being replaced.”
Much requires attention, he adds, stressing that it’s very important to keep Venango Regional’s facilities as nice as they always have been.
“I don’t want it to go to a shambles,” Buchna continues, emphasizing how vital it is to be vigilant in these areas. “I’m just trying to make sure I’m identifying and noting the things that it needs; to say, ‘Hey, you know what? We really need to take care of this now, or it’s going to get bad really quickly.’ That’s my focus probably for the remainder of this year and even going into next year in that planning process: replace some of that stuff that’s starting to get aged, before it becomes a problem.”
Buchna remains optimistic. Venango County is a charming place with many opportunities to offer savvy business investors. Buchna anticipated that Venango Regional will continue to drive that economic bus—or in this case, fly that plane into the boundless blue skies of greater prosperity.
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AT A GLANCE
Venango Regional Airport
What: a regional airport serving northwestern Pennsylvania
Where: Franklin, Pennsylvania
Oil Region Alliance – oilregion.org
As the birthplace of the modern petroleum industry, the Oil Region National Heritage Area is home to fascinating stories of innovation, perseverance, and fortunes won and lost. Nature reclaimed “the Valley that Changed the World,” creating an outdoor recreation paradise with Oil Creek State Park and the Allegheny River at its heart.