By Robert Bruachle
February 10, 2011
For nearly 70 years, the airfield at Griffiss Business & Technology Park airfield has lifted the region’s economy, even as the facilities around it were converted from an Air Force base to a growing business park.
How officials plan to fully utilize that two-mile stretch of blacktop and concrete, however, still is an ongoing debate.
“Having a solid, general aviation-based industry at the airport, and developing that further, that’s what is important,” Mohawk Valley EDGE President Steve DiMeo said. “The county has made a significant investment so far on the airport side, and by virtue, I think the county realizes it will benefit if its airfield assets are maximized.”
Even though the Griffiss International Airport averages 52,000 “aircraft operations” annually, making the facility a profitable venture is still an unrealized goal. The airport has perennially operated at a deficit since 2007, at times by more than $1.7 million, according to the airport’s business plan.
“Our biggest goal is to make it a self-sustaining operation,” Legislator George Joseph, R-Westmoreland. “We don’t want it to be a drain on taxpayers.”
Officials close to operations at the airport said that while they would cater to companies offering commercial flights to Griffiss, waiting for such a company to locate at the airport is counter-productive.
“I would love those fights, but we’ve been told by experts that we can’t do it because we’re so close to Albany and Syracuse,” Minority Leader Patricia Hudak, D-Rome, said.
Joseph, the county Aviation Committee chairman, was more open to the concept.
“Never say never,” he said. “We’re a bulls-eye, right in the middle of the state. We’d be a perfect location to fly out of.”
DiMeo said he does not feel the commercial aviation industry is pushing to expand to new areas, such as Rome.
“No one would say they are opposed to scheduled airport service,” DiMeo said. “But given what has happened to the industry in these past few years, I don’t see that they have the economic market to bring a carrier in Rome when its so close to Syracuse and Albany.”
Rome Mayor James Brown said he would like to see smaller businesses latch on and utilize the larger industries that are already at the park.
“I don’t see the airfield as a large commercial hub, but I can see some smaller commercial flights going to Atlantic City or Washington D.C.,” he said.
So how does an airport 45 miles from Syracuse and 90 miles from Albany expect to become profitable?
Joseph said the county’s move from the airport in Whitestown to Griffiss in early 2007 came with growing pains.
“We’ve had companies here where the global economic downturn has taken its toll on them,” Joseph said. “What they’ve done there to become more diversified is a good thing.”
Legislators said the county should continue to cater to maintenance, repair and overhaul companies such as Premier Aviation and MidAirUSA, which are located at Griffiss. Combined, the two companies employ nearly 300 people.
Other smaller offshoot companies then would naturally follow, officials said.
Acquiring some the vacated facilities still owned by the Air Force also should also be a priority, Hudak said.
“We’ve started to bring back those jobs that were lost with the base,” she said. “But what’s stopping us from going further is cash. We have people who want space, and we just need to renovate those buildings.”
Hudak said the county should apply for federal money to renovate existing nose docks at the airport.
“It’s sad because in order for us to expand, we need more money,” she said. “It’s not the government’s job to run like a business, but we need money just like a business. I would love to see the operations grow there.”
Hangar space at Griffiss has also been a commodity lately.
MidairUSA’s owners have repeatedly told Oneida County officials it needs more space because the company wants to expand. That room, however, will not be available until the county can find the money to renovate its buildings.
“We have some strong tenants right now,” Joseph said. “We just need to build on that now.”
Joseph said the main goal is to cater to whoever wants to locate at Griffiss.
“We’re trying to keep all of those balls in the air that we’re juggling right now,” he said.