Piedmont Triad International Airport, which is struggling with a heavy decline in passenger travel, said Tuesday the federal stimulus package will pay for a new $4 million fire station to protect its cargo terminals.

The new station will allow the airport to move its fire coverage from the south end of the runway toward the north, near the new FedEx Express hub expected to open later this year.

The station will be large enough for five trucks, but three will likely be stationed there, Ted Johnson, the airport’s executive director, told the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority board Tuesday.

The board has hired Lindsey Architecture to design and supervise construction of the station for $406,225. Under terms of the grant, the authority must design the station by mid-June.

Johnson has not decided yet whether to leave one truck in the old station or move all three to the new one.

Henry Isaacson, the board’s chairman, was eager to get on with it, given the nation’s political and economic turmoil.

“I need a motion on (the item) before somebody in Washington changes their mind,” he said.

In another matter, the number of passengers boarding at PTI has declined steeply, buffeted by a combination of consumer spending cuts and the loss of Skybus, a discount airline that drew thousands of passengers before folding in April of 2008.

February’s figures were down by 37 percent, to 60,664 passengers, compared with February 2008 figures of 95,935.

Johnson told the board that, without counting Skybus, boardings were down by about 13 percent, a typical number for most airports in the nation.

American Airlines led commercial carriers with a 32 percent decrease over February of 2008.

US Airways saw a relatively modest decrease of 11 percent and boarded 22,356 passengers at PTI in February compared with 25,224 a year ago.

The small number of private charters has dropped significantly — 42 percent — to 343 flights in February, compared with 593 a year ago.

Contact Richard M. Barron at 373-7371 or richard.barron

@news-record.com

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