When Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed in 1995, few could have envisioned what a boon that would actually turn out to be.
Not that Plattsburgh residents don’t miss the military personnel and the bustle they brought to the community with them. But the development there in the past 20 years has been astonishing, and the transfer of that storied runway from military to civilian use has not only rewarded the entire region, it has opened the gates for still more aviation-borne possibilities.
Pre-1995, Clinton County Airport was all Plattsburgh had for air access, and that offered no prospects for prosperity for the city, town, county and region.
But moving the operation to a 3-mile runway, suited to land even a space shuttle, has given Plattsburgh the chance to compete for things unimaginable in the past.
Currently in the midst of an upgrade totaling more than $50 million, the airport will now be the beneficiary of $38 million more from the New York state budget, as announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
This $38 million will add general-aviation and cargo capability and thus propel the airport into the class of installation that can serve many more users than it now does and in a variety of new ways.
One of the most important is that it will facilitate the building of space for companies to occupy a part of the airport or to fly products in or out to enhance their own operations.
Another item on the agenda will be new space for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection so the introduction of international passenger flights can be pursued.
Industrial buildings and hangars will be renovated. Parking lots and roads will be improved, perhaps paving the way for hotels or retail space.
There is much more attached to the granting of the money, but it, along with the building going on now, adds up to Plattsburgh realizing its potential as a transportation hub and being what North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas has long called “Montreal’s U.S. airport.”
With the manufacture of buses and train cars, and the companies that supply those enterprises, already a staple of Plattsburgh industry, and Norsk Titanium planning to build a Plattsburgh home to make space-age materials for aircraft, this area is established as a key component of the American transportation industry.
And drive past Plattsburgh International Airport at any time, any day, and you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of cars parked there awaiting their owners, who have flown to Boston or Dixie.
More destinations may now be on the horizon. The airport testifies to the wisdom of county legislators two decades ago who had the faith that providing the means to fly into and out of Plattsburgh was a lucrative prospect indeed.
These new steps will open still more opportunities for the area to thrive.
Thanks to local advocates, state legislators and the governor for helping this once-distant dream come true.