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$3.8 million airport plan could lift Ontario County

With business booming and expected to do even better in Ontario County, economic developers are pushing for an airport expansion that would accommodate more larger jets.
The county’s industrial development agency, which owns the Canandaigua Airport, has proposed a $3.8 million expansion project.
Some 95 percent of the project, which still needs final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, would be paid for with federal aviation funds, with the remaining cost split between state and private dollars. Officials hope to break ground on the expansion in 2007.
After looking at several options, Binghamton-based McFarland-Johnson Inc. consultants hired to work on a long-term plan for the airport, recommended extending the runway 2,300 feet to create one that is 5,500 feet long.
The extended runway should meet FAA standards for corporate jets to take off and land with more weight than currently is allowed. That means jets could leave the runway fully fueled and travel farther without having to stop at another airport to refuel.
“This expansion is an integral part of our economic development strategy,” said Michael Manikowski, executive director of the IDA and county economic development agency.
The FAA has given preliminary approval for the project and may have been influenced by things such as the Infotonics Technology Center Inc. in Canandaigua and Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva, he said.
“I think they recognize the growth of these as vital facilities that will be vital to the nation,” Manikowski said.
Jets now use the airport roughly once a month, but that is expected to rise to an average of some three visits a day. The airport now houses 53 aircraft, which include mostly smaller propeller planes. By 2022, that number is expected to rise near 70, including the jets.
Manikowski said the expansion would be able to accommodate most corporate jets and prop planes.
Manikowski said the project layout has been submitted to the FAA, and environmental work on the site should be done over the next few months. After that, the agency will move forward with buying some 20 acres around the airport from a resident, followed by design and engineering work.
Several public informational meetings have been held, with some neighbors voicing concerns about how increased air traffic would affect them.
Proponents say the expanded airport would encourage business travelers to fly in and out of Ontario County and would boost the economy. County officials expect more people traveling to the area for business, especially since the creation of the Infotonics Center and Ag Tech Park.
They do not expect, however, to become a commercial service airport, such as the Greater Rochester International Airport. Even the 5,500-foot runway would not be equipped to handle that type of air traffic.
David Smith, CEO of the Infotonics Center, supports the expansion.
The Infotonics Center plans to hold conferences at its Route 332 facility that may draw people from around the world. Having an expanded airport nearby would help, Smith said.
“It’s very critical to our future,” he said.
It also could help Mercy Flight Central Inc. The air ambulance housed at the airport will be able to transport patients longer distances to receive medical care without having to touch down and refuel at other airports en route.
With Mercy Flight, there are some 30 full-time employees at the airport, but the number of workers is expected to increase once jets become the norm, Manikowski said. Future jobs could range from mechanical work to food catering.
Manikowski expects the facility, which is managed by the Canandaigua Air Center Co., to turn a profit after a couple of years. The facility now operates at near break-even, but steps have been taken to increase profits, including the sale of jet fuel on site.
Other changes being done in the interim include adding equipment, which is being purchased with the help of a federal grant. The equipment includes snowplows and lawn mowers.
There also have been discussions about building a maintenance facility and adding taxi-ways and a second row of hangars.
Ontario County is not alone in its belief a jet-friendly airport is a must for economic development.
Some two years ago, Yates County expanded its airport to accommodate jets. There is now a 5,500-foot runway and room to house 37 planes, including six jets. The airport in Penn Yan employs roughly 70 people and is run by Seneca Flight Operations, a branch of Seneca Foods Corp.
Yates County Legislator Taylor Fitch said the airport has been good for local economic development, eliminating the need for some people visiting the county to fly in and out of larger venues, such as those in Rochester or Syracuse.
(adeckert@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

11/26/04 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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