Welcome to the Airport for Nobody

Why does this Pa. airport with three daily flights get $800K in stimulus funds?

April 23, 2009, 2:14 PM

April 23, 2009— -- You've heard of the Bridge to Nowhere. You might call this the Airport for Nobody.

The John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport has an impressive $18 million runway made of reinforced concrete that's big enough to land any airplane in North America. The airport also has a $7 million air traffic control tower, a $14 million hanger and $8 million radar. Most of the time, the only thing the airport doesn't have is airplanes.

An average of just 20 people a day flew out of the Murtha Airport last year. But, the airport was just awarded more federal money -- $800,000 in stimulus funds to repave an alternate runway.

Located in Johnston, Pa., 56 miles from Pittsburgh, the Murtha Airport is a monument to the power of Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has steered some $150 million in taxpayer dollars to the airport over the last decade.

On one side of the airport's main entrance, a large photograph of Murtha adorns the wall; on the other side, there's a bronze plaque with his name. The airport isn't always deserted. There are three flights a day -- all of them to Washington's Dulles International Airport.

"It's a breeze to get through security, [there are] no crowds and it's right in your back yard," one passenger told ABC News. "Definitely nicer than packing up early in the morning and traveling to Pittsburgh."

The federal government provides a subsidy for every flight into the Murtha Airport of about $100 dollars per passenger, but even with the subsidy, there are plenty of empty seats.

On a visit to the airport, ABC News found it virtually deserted, with an empty restaurant, vacant lounges and empty runways. An air traffic controller was twiddling his thumbs.

Thanks to Murtha, there is a Pennsylvania National Guard training facility located at the airport, but its personnel fly helicopters, not airplanes.

Manager Says Murtha Airport Provides Jobs

Murtha refused multiple ABC News requests for an interview, but airport manager Scott Voekler said the airport provides an important service to the economically devastated Johnstown area.

"It is tremendously important because when you bring companies in, you bring jobs," Voekler said.

Murtha is the person to thank for the "modern, state-of-the-art airport," he added.

"All the major construction projects at the airport are directly from Mr. Murtha," Voekler said. "He has been a great sponsor of the airport and is trying to bring business in. ... You have to have infrastructure to bring businesses in."

Those who use the airport are grateful to have it.

"This is not an airport for nobody," Johnstown resident Gil Weakland told ABC News after arriving on a flight from Washington. "We have industries here, we have businesses here and we have people who travel out of here."

"John Murtha is a good man," Weakland added. "You got to look at earmarks for what they are. What would communities like this do without a conscientious congressman?"

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events