October 24, 2021

Airports land funding

Jamie Costa/staff reporter

A plane sits at Cortland County-Chase Field after landing Tuesday. Chase Field and Ithaca Tompkins International Airport received federal funding as part COVID relief.

Cortland County-Chase Field and Ithaca Tompkins International Airport are set to receive federal funding — up to $2 million — as part of a COVID rescue plan.

Airports in upstate New York will receive $84 million of the $480 million in federal funding for airport and transit systems, which received the remainder of the funding. The Department of Transportation allocated $32,000 to Chase Field and $2 million to the Tompkins airport as part of the American Rescue Plan.

“Air travel and public transportation are among the most severely impacted industries amid the pandemic, and both are vital to the connectivity and success of the upstate economy,” Schumer said. “Airports and transit systems serve important functions in their communities, especially in more rural areas, connecting communities and residents and allowing for economic opportunities to cruise in.”

Airports can spend the money two ways — covering operating deficits or paying off long term debt.

“We are using it for both purposes but we haven’t decided the balances yet,” said Tompkins airport Director Mike Hall. “We have to pay our bills right now, but would love to get out of debt.”

The airport completed a $24.7 million renovation and expansion that increased the terminal 50%, installed geothermal heat and other improvements to allow it to become an international airport.

However, ridership at the airport is down 60% and this is the third round of COVIDrelated federal assistance it has received, Hall said.

Chase Field also received funding in the previous rounds to compensate for the lack of fuel sales and hangar rentals.

“We will be using it for operational deficits,” said Charles Sudbrink, the superintendent of highways. “Just lack of fuel sales and operations in general.”

“The airport doesn’t actually use any county budget money, we’re self sufficient,” said Trisha Jesset, senior engineer and deputy superintendent of highways. “It pays for its own budget with the fuel sales and the hangar leases.”

The airports did not apply for grants. Instead, airports were chosen by a federal formula that determined the need for assistance to the air transportation system based on the effect of the pandemic.

“The purpose is to maintain the systems so that we are able to recover,” Hall said. “You can’t take down an airport for six months and expect it to pick back up again (without federal funding).”

Before the pandemic, the Tompkins airport flights were up 20% after the airport’s new terminal opened, but the pandemic shut everything down and it is now in an operating deficit.

However, a year later, the demand for travel is growing and by June, Hall expects to see multiple commercial flights a day from Delta, American Airlines and United Airways.

“The federal assistance has allowed us to not be concerned with having to shut down the airport,” Hall said. “It’s allowed us to stay current with all of our obligations.”