By Jim Carroll Sept 21, 2003
Two years ago Kevin Poor was grounded as federal aviation officials cleared the skies after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
General aviation pilots like Poor had to wait until commercial airlines were back in the skies before they got permission to take off
And Poor, as chief instructor for Erie's new North Coast Flight School, was among the group that was last to be allowed back in the air
to do business.
But much has changed at Erie International in the two years since the terrorist attacks.
The airport has landed two new airlines and has experienced a 6 percent growth in commercial air service at a time when the
industry as a whole remains in the doldrums.
A similar trend has developed with general aviation.
General aviation includes everything except regularly scheduled commercial airline service.
The volume of general aviation flying in Erie has jumped sharply over the past two years, while general aviation nationwide is
"We are flying in the opposite direction," Erie International Airport Director Kelly Fredericks said.
Federal Aviation Administration statistics showed that all operation at Erie International totaled 5,809 in August 2000.
An operation is either a takeoff or landing.
In August 2001, the operation total was down to 4,506 and plummeted to 3,212 in September 2001, the month of the terrorist
The number of total operations jumped to 6,057 in August 2002 and up to 6,889 in August 2003.
That increase comes at a time when the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association — a general aviation advocacy group — shows general
aviation activity as being down.
An AOPA trends report said the first quarter of 2003 saw decreases in flight activity, pilot certification, aircraft shipments and
But that wasn't the trend in Erie, where total general aviation operations went from 5,151 in the first quarter of 2002 to 5,984 in the
first quarter of 2003.
Fredericks pointed to the flight school, and North Coast Air — the airport's fixed base operator — as some reasons for the strong
showing in general aviation.
"They play a huge role in the success of this airport," he said.
Fredericks said many flight schools went out of business in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy, but the North Coast Flight
School started that month by Bonnie Moorhead not only hung on, but thrived.
"Things have been going great," said Moorhead, as she sat in the school's expanding quarters.
The school went from one to three Cessna 172's over that past two years, and recently hired two more full-time instructors.
The school has become an FAA approved testing center and so far has 30 students get their pilot rating.
"We try to make it fun," Moorhead said.
Moorhead has not only marketed the school to adults who want a license to fly for business, pleasure or as a career, but she has also
marketed to students, even setting up a pilot license course at Cathedral Preparatory School. Students do course work on their
license at the school, and the final exam is the written pilot's test.
Poor, who joined as the school's first instructor, said the growing flight school, with its frequent takeoffs and landings, has played a
large role in pumping up the airport's operational statistics.
"If you look at the skies around Erie, there are usually about three planes in a traffic pattern, and usually one of them is ours," Poor
said. "It is not uncommon for us to fly eight to 10 hours a day."
The school also rents planes, and the more pilots it graduates, the more demand there is for rentals.
But the flight school does not account for all of the increased activity.
FAA statistics show the number of flights by out-of-town based pilots flying into Erie International has also increased.
Fredericks said another big element in the increase in Erie is the fixed base operator — the firm that offers fueling, maintenance and
some other services to local planes and those from out of the area visiting Erie for business or pleasure.
He pointed out the local fixed base operator — North Coast Air run by managing partner Bill Patterson of Erie — was named the top
FBO in Pennsylvania for customer service at the annual Pennsylvania Aviation Conference in October 2002.
Moorhead also formed a general aviation support group at Erie International, call the FlyErie Group. It lobbies for issues of interest to
general aviation, and recently pushed airport officials for a commitment to keep the short runway — runway 2-20 — open.
And Fredericks said general aviation is important to Erie and Pennsylvania.
He pointed to the most recent statewide figures that show general aviation supports 5,800 jobs, a $143 million payroll and about
$664.7 million in total economic activity.