2016 has been a turbulent year for the Greater Binghamton Airport, which lost two of its airline providers and is missing out on tens of millions of dollars in state funding.
Despite rumors of a possible shut down, Broome County Director of Aviation David Hickling says the Greater Binghamton Airport isn’t closing.
“We are a public use airport and we are required to stay open to provide that service,” he said.
Turns out, closing the airport would actually cost more than keeping it open.
“It is my understanding that grants we have received from the federal government would have to be immediately repaid if we do not have any passenger service,” said Broome County Executive Elect Jason Garnar (D).
But business at the airport is far from booming. The energy of airline passengers crowded around the luggage carousel is short lived. In between flights — the airport is like a ghost town. A handful of TSA employees and County workers wait for the next plane to touch down. Flights are usually several hours apart and there is no restaurant to eat at. Hickling says Binghamton Brewing Company will be moved into the airport by Thanksgiving.
In a span of less than a month, United Airlines and American Airlines announced they were leaving Binghamton. Both will be gone by February 2017.
“It has been a challenge,” Hickling said. “It has been somewhat surprising but seeing the way the industry is changing we kind of saw this coming.”
The last remaining airline service, Delta airlines, is currently operating without a contract.A five year agreement between Delta and Broome County expired back in June. Back in 2011, the county and Delta agreed to a three year deal with two 1-year options, both of which were exercised.
A federal law is in place to protect smaller airports from losing all of their airline carriers. The Federal Government would subsidized an airline to stay. According to Hickling, Binghamton does not meet the criteria of the law, meaning Delta could depart at any time with no return flight.
Both Delta and Hickling say negotiations are underway but nothing has been agreed to. Hickling is hopeful Delta will ad flights as early as this coming Spring.
Once United and American Airlines officially leave, the number of flights a day could drop to as low as two, which could impact Air Traffic Control. The FAA has 21 air traffic controllers who staff Greater Binghamton Airport. Air traffic controller salaries at Greater Binghamton Airport range from $44,000 to $87,000, based on years of experience. That doesn’t include weekend, holiday or evening pay differentials.
FAA officials declined to do an interview regarding possible staffing changes.
Along with losing two airlines in 2016, Binghamton has, so far, missed out on millions of dollars in state funding. In September, Elmira-Corning Regional Airport received 40 million dollars for a expansion project. Elmira-Corning was one of two airports to receive funding. Sixteen Airports including Binghamton have entered.
The next step for the airport is try and regroup. Which is turning into a county-wide effort.
“I know a number of people in the business community, including the chamber of commerce, want to get together and develop an action plan to get more airlines to come here,” said Garnar We cant certainly run that airport with just one airline. We need to at least get another one to come in.”
“We are not done here. We are not closing up. We have opportunities to grow,” said Hickling. “This is a hurdle but we are not going to stop here. We are going to just keep working to bring that air service back.”
Hickling added the Greater Binghamton Airport has the ability to take on larger commercial flights. Last year, 50,000 people flew with either Untied Airlines or American Airlines. Hickling believes that fact will help attract other airlines to the airport.