MGM runway construction leads to confusion over Penn State travel plans

Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 8:20 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Penn State’s football team is traveling to Alabama this weekend to face Auburn on Saturday, but a logistical issue has disrupted the teams travel plans.

Penn State was planning on flying into the Montgomery Regional Airport, but large charter flights are unable to land at the airport for about the next five months. Construction has closed off nearly a third of the airport’s runway as the Alabama Air National Guard prepares for the arrival of the F-35.

“The BAK-12 is necessary to protect the life of the ANG pilot and the F-16/F-35 aircraft,” said Wade A. Davis, executive director of MGM.

“The 187th Fighter Wing is hard at work preparing for the 5th generation F-35A Lightning to arrive in December of 2023. The runway project is part of normal maintenance for the F-16 and to be better prepared for the F-35 arrival. Routine maintenance on the cables is required with fighter jets and is extremely important to the safety of our pilots. The 187th Fighter Wing is committed to safety and readily looking forward to the F-35 arrival,” the Alabama National Guard said in a statement.

Penn State coach James Franklin spoke with Sports Illustrated this week about the travel confusion, saying ”I guess federal government work doesn’t stop for football season, contrary to what the world thinks. Everybody thinks college football is king, but in Montgomery, Ala., getting the airport fixed for F-16s and F-35s is more important, right?”

Until the construction project is complete, Anna Buckalew, president of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, clarified that Penn State and other companies who require large charter flights will be able to fly into Maxwell Airforce Base.

“Airlines that cannot get into MGM can fly into Maxwell, and then we’re arranging for the equipment so that those planes can be deplaned, and equipment can be put on buses, and then they will be in downtown in 10 minutes,” Buckalew said.

Bucklew added that the Air Force, the Montgomery Regional Airport and Montgomery Aviation are partnering to make sure Penn State and other traveling teams are not inconvenienced during this time.

But the question now is whether or not Penn State will choose to land at Maxwell. Gregory Kincaid, associate director of strategic communications at Penn State, told WSFA 12 News that they will be flying out of Columbus, Georgia.

“We have been aware of this issue for a month and looked at all possible flight options. We are flying into Columbus, which is our best option at this time,” Kincaid said in a statement.

But on the other hand, sources told the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce that Penn State is, in fact, flying into Maxwell.

WSFA reached back out to the university for clarification, and Kincaid said, “We do not have an update at this time.”

We do know the team plans to stay at a hotel in downtown Montgomery, as the school says at “no point did we consider switching hotels.”

Buckalew says it sounds like a miscommunication about what travel options the team knew were available.

“We don’t know exactly what Penn State’s plans are at this moment, so we’re waiting to hear. We’ve expressed to them that they have the option of flying into Montgomery and we’re doing everything we can to make it easy for them,” Buckalew said. “We have checked with our hotels. We’ve lost no business from this.”

If the team chooses to fly out of Columbus, their hotel would be about a 90-minute drive away from the airport.

The construction at the Montgomery Regional Airport is not impacting any commercial flights. To clear any misperception, MGM public notification about the runway construction project dates back to 2018.

The Penn State vs. Auburn game kicks off Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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