Last updated: December 21. 2013 4:22PM - 1719 Views
ANDREW M. SEDER aseder@timesleader.com

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PITTSTON TWP. — More than nine months since a runway lighting system that helps guide pilots coming in for a landing at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport stopped working, the airport’s director said a decision as to whether to repair or replace the system is expected soon.

The system at issue is called the Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights, or MALSR, and when operational is visible by drivers along Interstate 81. But so many bulbs have burned out, according to Airport Director Barry J. Centini, that the system has shut down.

Adding to the situation is that the catwalk used for workers to get to the bulbs has become unsturdy and not safe to use.

The Federal Aviation Administration owns and operates the system, and Centini said both he and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey have been urging the FAA to make the necessary fixes or to replace the entire system before airlines are forced to cancel landings or a tragedy happens because of visibility issues.

Without the light system functioning, the visibility minimums for pilots to land increases, raising the possibility that some planes will be diverted to another airport and some won’t be able to land until circling around the airport waiting for visibility to improve.

“We just want the system back on, we want the system up and running,” Centini said, noting its an FAA responsibility.

He’s unsure of the cost, though estimates have been mentioned in the $3-$5 million range.

“I’m urging the FAA to quickly address this issue and ensure that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport has this important safety upgrade. I’m hopeful that the FAA will make the right decision and improve the airport’s lighting system quickly in the new year,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said on Friday.

The decision also could impact an ongoing $41.9 million PennDOT project to redesign the I-81 interchange for the airport and a connector road through airport property into Dupont. A stretch of that project leads near the lighting system’s tension support wires and could be delayed by the work.

That project has caused some headaches for airport security, which has seen numerous tractor trailers getting stuck or jackknifing because they’re missing their turns onto the interstate and coming onto airport property to make a U-Turn then getting stuck in the old Verizon building parking lot.

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