By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer
There will be visible changes and some not so readily seen by pilots and other county airport users in the new year.
For starters, there will be plenty of construction. Corporate and T-hangars for the storage of general aviation aircraft will be rising to the east of the air control tower, thanks to county and state dollars. Users pay rental fees to help offset the county’s cost.
The corporate hangar is expected to be ready by mid-year.
Construction of the new hangars will free up space in the east bay of Building 100 that is used to store general aviation aircraft. This space will undergo renovations and be taken over by Empire Aero Center, which needs the bay to grow its large aircraft maintenance and overhaul operation.
To be built adjacent to the corporate hangar is a structure to house the airport’s fixed-base operation, which the county turned over to private operator Freeman Holdings last year. Freeman Holdings operates a Million Air franchise, which offers such aircraft services as fueling and deicing, as well as amenities for pilots.
The terminal building is slated for completion in the fall.
The company and the county have a 10-year contract with the option to sign on for another 10 years if Freeman decides to stay.
A 2009 priority of the FBO operator is to secure and maintain a Defense Energy Support Center government fueling contract for Griffiss. The hope is to attract military aircraft for fueling stops although there is no way to get exclusive rights to such traffic, This federal contract has proven beneficial to Freeman Holdings at other airports where it has Million Air franchises.
“Freeman has every belief it will receive a government contract,” said Al Candido, chief of staff to County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. Candido was the county’s point man on the airport long-term growth until the recent appointment of an aviation commissioner.
Renovations also are under way at Building 220, which is between the Mohawk Valley Community College aviation technician training school and the Empire Aero Center complex. The building will be used for small aircraft repairs, among other things.
Pilots should also be able to take advantage of a self-fueling operation that is planned for installation this year.
Additionally, an instrument landing project is under way,
“The year 2009 is going to be all about construction,” sums up Candido.
This year’s projects are a continuation of the development of the former Griffiss Air Force Base as a general aviation airport. Some $30 million in federal, state and local dollars has been committed to the multiyear undertaking.
And there’s more construction in the planning stages.
On Tuesday, the Board of Legislators approved a contract for design services for upgrades and improvements to a hangar left behind from the Air Force days. No money has been allocated for construction.
“Right now it is just a huge metal pole barn,” said Candido.
It is currently used leased to a tenant for cold storage to support work at Empire Aero and talks are under way for a lease extension.
The county would look to turn it into a hangar eventually if there’s demand instead of building a new facility.
The county airport was moved to Griffiss in January 2007 from Whitestown — after Empire Aero settled on Griffiss for its new location for rehabbing Boeing and Airbus aircraft. A key objective behind moving the airport to Griffiss was to facilitate growth of Empire Aero and attract other aviation-related businesses, such as air cargo operations, to the business park.
But there’s more than construction on the drawing board, says Candido.
Aviation Commissioner W. Vernon Gray III has been on the job since November and Candido is looking for him to take hold of the operations at Griffiss.
“Vernon has a very full plate in front of him” says Candido.
A plan to capitalize on strengths and address problem areas is one of the objectives — besides making sure the construction projects stay on course and the transition to a privately run FBO is as smooth as possible.
“One of the things we’re looking for is a detailed business plan,” said Candido.
The county is looking to bring in more revenue to narrow the difference between revenue and expenses. It is now a money-losing proposition — in the neighborhood of $.7 million — although that is not necessarily unusual for government-owned airports.
The airfield that covers nearly 1,600 acres and features one of the longest runways in the Northeast at 2 1/4 miles.
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