Changes being made at county airports

MAYVILLE – Sam Arcadipane is working to reverse the thinking that county-owned airports are a drain on taxpayers.

Arcadipane, who is the county’s director of airports and parks, took over the position at the end of November. Since then, he has been working toward making major changes on a tight budget and with fewer resources than the airport had many years ago.

While both airports have gone through changes under the direction of Arcadipane, the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown has made some noticeable changes in the last several months and Arcadipane is looking for bigger changes in the airport’s future.

CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY AIRPORT

Twenty years ago, the Chautauqua County Airport saw between 70,000 and 75,000 travelers come through per year, according to Arcadipane. Now, the airport is reaching only 7 to 10 percent of its potential, with 4,000 travelers each year.

“If you look at it, we were way ahead, because at that pace, with 75,000 people, we were capturing 70 percent of the travelers,” Arcadipane said. “It’s because we had good locations, more flights. The population hasn’t changed. It’s shifted, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t here. Everyone says, ‘It’s not what it used to be.’ Well, why? That’s what we’re looking at now.”

The airport currently primarily caters to military, education and business passengers. Arcadipane said the Chautauqua County Airport is convenient as a re-fueling stop for military passengers. Additionally, people, including speakers and guests, use the airport for both Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia. And, with flights to Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo; and Bradford, Pa., paired with free parking, the Chautauqua County Airport works for business passengers

Silver Airways, which is the main airline with the Chautauqua County Airport, also partners with United Airlines and Wiggins Airways for flights in and out of Jamestown. And, although he didn’t want to say which airlines he has been speaking with, Arcadipane alluded that he was seeking to bring other flights into the airport.

“A good business, a good airport, is able to deliver people and commodities quickly and efficiently,” Arcadipane said.

Additionally, Arcadipane is working on getting flights to targeted travel locations, for those looking to travel for pleasure. Although he didn’t want to prematurely disclose the locations he is working on securing, Arcadipane did say he is looking at ways to allow residents to travel quickly and efficiently directly from Jamestown, with no layovers.

AIRPORT GROWTH

Since becoming director in November, Arcadipane has been working to increase some basic services at the airport, including what he called internal comforts and better amenities.

Runway 7 Restaurant and Lounge celebrated its one-year anniversary of being the Chautauqua County Airport’s restaurant earlier this week. The restaurant is operated by the owners of Backyard Bar and Grill in Gerry, and operates Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Additionally, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, for dinners beginning at 5 p.m.

Arcadipane also noted Runway 7 Restaurant and Lounge does catering and is available for parties. It, too, is re-evaluating how it can provide a better service to both the airport and the community as the airport continues to grow.

A vending area, complete with several arcade-style games, is also a recent addition to the airport. The vending area has products ranging from fresh-ground coffee, to soda and snack options, to yogurt and cereal, sandwiches and heat-and-eat options.

“Some people have asked me, ‘Well, doesn’t this take away from the restaurant?'” Arcadipane said. “No, it doesn’t. It provides the off-time convenience to those who travel and work through here.”

A 42-inch flat-screen television is also a new addition to the airport’s lobby, which is still in the process of being connected.

Arcadipane is also working on branding the airport’s fire protection team better. A sign will soon be going up at the airport, identifying the fire and rescue area for the Greater Chautauqua County Jamestown Regional Airport. And, in the future, Arcadipane said he would like to work more closely with other fire departments in the area.

Finally, although it was approved too late to be on the maps this year, the Chautauqua County Airport also boasts a new snowmobile launch, which Arcadipane hopes will draw additional people to the airport and generate more activity.

FUTURE PLANS

Aside from bringing in larger airplanes to accommodate recreational travel to and from Chautauqua County, Arcadipane would like to expand the airport’s runway by 1,000 feet.

“Right now, with a runway like we have, we can accommodate passenger service, but on a limited number,” Arcadipane said.

Currently, the airport has 5,300 feet of runway. In order to bring in the larger flights he would like to see, Arcadipane said the absolute minimum amount of runway needed is 6,000 feet. So, he would like to see the runway extended by 500 feet on either end.

“It’s going to be very expensive and we’ve got many hoops to jump through to get the FAA to grant this grant money in order to have this come to fruition,” Arcadipane said. “And, of course, there will be a local share from the county.”

Constructing a longer runway will give the airport the boost it needs in order to remain competitive, according to Arcadipane.

“We’re trying to play Major League Baseball in a Little League field,” he said. “The preparations done by the previous airport managers have indicated that we definitely need a longer runway to be competitive and efficient. But, it takes many years to plan and we’re at the point where the planning has been pretty well executed. We need to continue on with the proof of need and working toward the grant and construction.”

FINANCIAL SITUATION

Arcadipane explained that the Chautauqua County Airport and the Dunkirk Airport each operate on a budget handed down from the county each year. Additionally, Arcadipane said the airports can seek state and federal grants for projects, such as expanding the runway.

“The actual large improvements would be federal and local shares,” he said, adding that Federal Aviation Administration grants require a low percentage of local shares.

Currently, Arcadipane said the Dunkirk Airport is close to breaking even as far as its budget. Meanwhile, the Chautauqua County Airport in Jamestown is working within its budget.

“Our goal for the Dunkirk airport is to make it as self-sustaining as possible and the goal at this airport is to actually make money. We want to reverse this way of thinking that the airport is a drain. It is not a drain,” Arcadipane said. “For the facilities we have and the amount of service we provide to the community, and the potential of services for the community, the cost to the taxpayers is not as bad as people think it is if you really look at the big picture.”

Overall, Arcadipane said he is pleased with the county’s airports, as well as the potential they pose to growing Chautauqua County.

“I have got excellent cooperation. We have real good cooperation from the county executive, the lawmakers and my immediate supervisor. We have outstanding support and leadership,” he said. “No community gives up an airport. Nobody gives up an airport. It is one of the most strategic pieces of real estate in the county. If you’re going to grow an economy, you have to have a sufficient way to travel.”

Comments on this story may be sent to editorial@observertoday.com