A recent editorial has called, correctly, for development of a regional airport to serve the Southern Tier. It is a great idea.
While every community can rightly take pride in its own airport, the cities of Binghamton, Ithaca and Elmira are just too small for civic pride to supersede responsible planning for a regional facility.
Where the editorial went wrong, I think, was in its call for a new airport, possibly in Tioga County. While that is also a good idea, the expense to establish a completely new airport is simply too great for it to work. No amount of state and federal funding will make it possible, and the years it would take to build would dilute any initial excitement, which would be necessary for a regional airport run by cooperating municipalities to succeed.
I think the only reasonable option is to designate the Elmira Corning Regional Airport as the regional field for the Southern Tier. I’m a private pilot, and my first solo flight was at the Binghamton airport in 1975, so I do have some loyalty to the place. But given the airline service at BGM — only four commercial flights a day, once United leaves — there is no way to justify the expense of running the place.
The same is true for Ithaca and Elmira as they now are.
The solution I envision is for the airlines to stop service to Binghamton and Ithaca altogether, consolidating at Elmira, which has a combination of location, runways and approaches that make it a winner.
Simply combining services could mean something like 20 departures a day to current destinations, or fewer flights using larger aircraft. If passenger traffic keeps up, then other airlines, like Southwest or JetBlue, might want to join American, United and Delta at Elmira. There inevitably would be additional destinations.
One crucial innovation would be needed to make this work: nonstop, fast, comfortable, frequent bus service from the Binghamton and Ithaca areas to the new regional airport. Convenience for the traveler would have to be paramount. The bus stations would have to be welcoming and friendly, with plenty of easy parking and ready access to the highway.
In the future, like in some European cities, the transit points could offer check-in, baggage drops and perhaps even TSA clearance. The buses then would drop the passengers inside the secure zone at Elmira, and they would be ready to board and begin their trips.
I know a lot of what I propose is ambitious and probably would not even happen in my lifetime. But without a vision, a clear sense of something really good for the future, the stagnation that has hurt the Southern Tier will just continue. My proposal could be one way to inject some enthusiasm for change and, with it, hope for the future.
This innovative approach to transportation could make the Southern Tier a national model for airport planning, giving it visibility and restoring a sense of pride that the area certainly can use.
Robert Kochersberger is emeritus professor of journalism at North Carolina State University and has a seasonal home in Hallstead, Pennsylvania.