When hundreds of people visited the Penn Yan Flying Club July 4 for the annual Fly-in breakfast, they were enjoying pancakes and sausage at the birthplace of Yates County’s aviation economy.
From the time the Flying Club opened the airport in 1940 to today, the airport and associated properties and businesses have grown to an important part of the community in many ways — putting Penn Yan on maps around the world, adding more jobs to the economy, and even helping provide resources that can be used for other public purposes.
Calling the Penn Yan Airport one of the best-maintained airports he works at, Shawn Bray, airport engineering manager at Passero Associates, says the Penn Yan facility proves: “Build it and it gets used.”
The Penn Yan Airport as been identified as one of America’s 100 Most Needed Airports by National Air Transportation Association.
Paul Middlebrook, who grew up beneath the wings of small planes, and has spent much of his adult life behind the controls of other aircraft, says when the Penn Yan Flying Club was established in 1940, its 20 founding members established the purpose of the club:
• To advance the science of aeronautics;
• To encourage interest in aviation;
• To develop aviation;
• To provide economical flying rates for its members;
• To bring more people the social benefits and pleasures of flying activities.
The club owns five aircraft and employs six part time workers. Its 1946 Piper Cub is one of the few single-owner Piper Cubs in the U.S., says Middlebrook. Club members estimate the plane had flown the equivalent of 18 trips to the moon and back by the time it was 50 years old.
The club started operations on rented property that was eventually purchased in 1944 when there were three crossing runways in a field. By 1955, more aircraft required a hard surface, so the club built a 2,350 ft. long 25 ft. wide gravel runway. In 1966, with support from area corporations, the club purchased additional property.
By 1973, through donations and the efforts of members and local businesses, the airport had expanded to include a paved 3,250 ft. long 50 ft. wide runway, and became known as the Penn Yan Airport.
The airport is classified as a multiple general aviation airport that serves local and regional needs, says Middlebrook, explaining anyone can land at the airport — there’s no need to call for approval.
In 1992 Yates County purchased 100 acres from the club using federal and state funds generated from fees paid by airline ticket holders. Those funds in turn were used to establish the County Aviation Fund. Most major spending for improvements at the airport are financed with 90 percent federal funds, 5 percent state and 5 percent local. The local share is drawn from this County Aviation Fund. Seneca Flight Operations, which manages the airport for the county, pays fees into the fund for pavement maintenance. Rentals of T-Hangars owned by the county also provide $8,000 in annual income to the fund. Those T-Hangars were built with funds from a state grant.
In 1994, a 4,500 ft. long 100 ft. wide asphalt paved runway was completed. In 2003 that runway was extended to 5,500 feet long, and just last month, it was re-surfaced, all at no cost to local property taxpayers, say members of the airport council. Airport Council Chairman Doug Marchionda Sr. says all the hard surfaces on the airport property will be resurfaced by the end of this year, and will have a lifespan of 10 years.
Last week Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced that the Penn Yan Airport will receive approximately $208,195.00 in funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to install new runway lighting, increasing safety and energy efficiency. The current system that lights the runway is not enclosed, and therefore exposed to weather and other elements that cause natural wear and tear; this exposure has resulted in the lighting strips beginning to fray.
Since 1991, more than $16.3 million in capital projects have been completed at the airport. The county has received $13.7 million in federal grants, $2 million in state grants, and spent $600,000 in local funds.
Projects include: Airfield pavement, equipment purchases, airport lighting, security and fencing, land acquisition, emergency service provider access, a maintenance building, T-Hangars, obstruction removal, a helipad and more.
Along with Marchionda, the Airport Council includes Rich Leppert, of Seneca Flight Operations, Daryl Middlebrook, of Penn Yan Aero, Taylor Fitch, former Yates County legislative chairman and member-at-large, and Yates County Legislator Leland Sackett. Paul Middlebrook, who previously managed Seneca Flight Operations, and John Socha, deputy supervisor in the town of Milo, are sometimes invited to meetings, as is Sheriff Ron Spike, whose department is responsible for security at the airport.
Established in 1992, the council’s purpose is to protect the rights of aviation users, and provide expertise and knowledge in the development, management and general operation of the airport.
Marchionda says council members agree they don’t want to spend money on items that are going to need further investment later. He says now that the T-Hangars are built and generating revenue, the council is in discussions about building another set.
For more information about the Flying Club visit www.pennyanflyingclub.com.
Coming Next: A look at the businesses associated with the airport — Penn Yan Aero and Seneca Flight Operations — the economic impact of the complex, and the potential for expansion that local officials see.