Ribbon-cutting officially opens runway extension

A ribbon cutting and a fly-by by a larger corporate-style jet marked the official opening of a 1,000-foot addition to the main runway at the Dunkirk Airport John J. Nalbone Sr. Field on Wednesday.

County Executive Vince Horrigan was the master of ceremonies, thanking those involved in the project and explaining the value of the runway expansion.

“When you look at the challenges we have in the county in terms of economic development and economic growth, it’s aviation that I believe will be one of the key aspects going forward. Clearly this airport, our two airports in the county, are critical infrastructure to growth, so it’s neat to be here,” Horrigan stated.

“You are officially at the Dunkirk Airport, just recently renamed the John J. Nalbone Sr. Field, after Mr. Nalbone, and that’s pretty neat stuff. We just recently, I guess a couple months ago, finished the extension of the runway and runway extensions don’t come easily. They come with considerable taxpayer expense but they enable opportunity,” Horrigan said.

A landing jet interrupted Horrigan before he continued.

“Regional airports I think are playing a key role, and they will continue to play a key role, as our economy recovers,” he stated, adding the airports are truly an asset to the county.

George Spanos, the county’s Department of Public Facilities director, then gave a brief history of the project, recognizing the efforts and people who got the FAA behind the project, which he said cost $4.2 million,

The expansion was made possible when the county received approximately $4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the New York State DOT to fund the runway expansion project in 2012. The grant-funded Newell Road Runway 24 Extension Project allowed 1,000 feet to be added to the existing primary runway, making it 6,000 feet long by 100 feet wide, improving the safety and accessibility of the airport by larger jet aircraft.

Horrigan cited the efforts of former area Congressman Brian Higgins, saying Higgins was instrumental in getting federal funding. Jacqueline Chiarot, current Congressman Tom Reed’s regional director, was next to speak.

“On behalf of Congressman Brian Higgins, who we do work very closely with in Congress, and on behalf of Congressman Reed, … congratulations,” she stated.

Higgins did provide a statement to mark the occasion.

“Transportation infrastructure investments, like those made here at the Dunkirk Airport, are so important to an economy that relies on the efficient flow of goods and people,” Higgins said. “This construction project to expand the runway was a job creator in the construction phase and will provide new opportunities for Dunkirk and Chautauqua County moving forward.”

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer also helped with funding and issued a statement marking the event.

“Regional Airports, like Dunkirk, play a critical role in local economic development and are a vital tool in attracting new businesses to the area,” Schumer stated. “I was a strong supporter of federal funding for the runway extension project, and I am pleased that the construction is now complete and local businesses can now begin taking advantage of the increased safety and accessibility the new runway will provide.”

Louis Nalbone, one of the late John A. Nalbone Sr.’s three children, was asked by Horrigan to say a few words.

“This is really an incredible day. Vince mentioned the county willing to name the airport after out father, John, who really poured his life into this airport. … I just wish he could be here,” Louis Nalbone stated, citing teamwork and corporate users as being keys. “I thank you. I’ve seen so much of it and lived through it and I’m just thankful that this shows we can go forward with something in this community that will attract businesses. I appreciate all the efforts of everyone involved.”

The ceremonial ribbon cutting followed with smiles all around.

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