June 17, 2008

Pilots Find Fuel a Bargain at Airport

By Jim Carroll, Erie Times-News, Pa.

Jun. 15--MEADVILLE -- Aviation gas at $5.29 a gallon couldn't keep 18-year-old Bryan Johnston, of Zelienople, and two friends from climbing in his family's Cessna 172 and making a quick trip to Meadville for dinner.

"I just got my license last week," said Johnston, a recent Ambridge High School grad, as he and former classmates, Josh Sadowy and Matt Morski, landed at Port Meadville Airport on Thursday.

One reason why Johnston wasn't worried about aviation fuel prices: "My dad is paying for it," he said, with a grin.

But if young Johnston was paying for the return trip, he got a break. Fuel at Port Meadville was $5.05 a gallon -- 24 cents a gallon cheaper than at his home airport.

Pilots who do pay their own gas are also continuing to take off and land at Port Meadville, and low aviation fuel prices are a little added incentive.

"Meadville is one of the cheaper places to buy gas," said Bob Davis, one of the Meadville area pilots who organized the Meadville Aero Club four years ago.

The national average price of 100 low-lead aviation fuel last week was $5.47 a gallon, according to AirNav.com.

The idea of the flying club is to have 20 pilots all pay an entrance fee, monthly dues to cover maintenance and a per-hour cost for fuel, and then share the use of the club's Cessna 172.

Davis said members were paying $45 an hour of flying time for fuel. Recently they bumped that up to $50 an hour.

He still thinks it's a bargain -- that the $5 a gallon he pays to fly is a better deal than the $4 a gallon he pays to drive around town or go back and forth to work.

"People might be flying slightly less, but not that much," he said. "People who want to fly will still fly."

Jack Lynch, Crawford County planning director and manager of the airport, said 31 planes are based at Port Meadville, including three business jets. He said that number represents a slight increase over what it has been in recent years.

Lynch said high prices seem to have some pilots doing what drivers do -- looking for the station with the best price.

"We get some calls from pilots asking if their credit cards will work on our pumps," he said. "I know some pilots look around for the best price."

Lynch said aviation fuel prices are starting to pinch everyone, but he said Port Meadville has not seen any sharp decline in use.

Johnston said his family is thinking about selling the plane now that he is out of high school and going off to college.

But that won't necessarily end his flying. Johnston said he has been accepted at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and hopes to one day become a military pilot.


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