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Tue., Oct. 6
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Grant not enough to cover runway expansion at Massena International Airport


MASSENA — While the recently announced $4.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will cover the cost of repaving one of the airport’s runways, Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the grant is not enough to pay for a runway expansion project.

Mr. Gray said the grant provided Massena with exactly what it was looking for, noting that while airport expansion has been discussed for years, it has never actually been studied formally.

“There are a lot of challenges when you start talking about runway expansions,” he said. “First of all you have to find $10 million to $15 million to pay for it. The town could bond for it and extend the runway tomorrow, but then how do you pay for it other than through raising taxes?”

Mr. Gray said raising taxes to pay for a project at the airport isn’t something he wants to do.

“If you could show a corresponding increase in revenue that would cover the costs, that would be one way to do it,” he said.

While Mr. Gray said that “most people” would like to see an expanded airport with bigger planes in Massena, it’s not quite as simple as expanding the runway.

“When you go above planes with 20 passengers you become a different kind of airport,” he said. “With the change in classification you have an increased responsibility in fire protection and an increase in operating expenses.”

Before the town could get serious about increasing the size of a runway at the airport, Mr. Gray said, there needs to be some serious discussion.

“There needs to be a business plan put together that would show what a longer runway would cost and things that could happen that would help to offset the costs,” he said. “You could potentially increase the $200,000 debt we’re currently running at the airport if there is no corresponding revenue.”

Should the airport eclipse the 10,000-passenger mark, Mr. Gray said, the town would earn an additional $1 million subsidy.

“That would really help,” he said, adding that while use is up at Massena, the 10,000-passenger mark isn’t likely to be hit this year.

“Usage is up at the airport, but we’re still running about 50 percent capacity,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful that over the next several months Massena will see a boost in Canadian ridership, similar to what has been seen in Ogdensburg.

“Cape Air has been marketing in Ottawa longer than they have anywhere else,” Mr. Gray said, adding it just recently has begun marketing itself in Cornwall and other Canadian communities in the area.

“Canadians like to cross on the ground and fly to U.S. destinations from the U.S. because it’s a lot cheaper,” he said, adding that customs “on the ground” is easier to deal with than customs at the airport.

In the period from September 2012 through April, Ogdensburg has seen 683 Canadian passengers compared with only 201 for Massena.

Overall ridership at the airport is up this year, with first-quarter ridership increasing from 1,070 to 1,161, an increase of 91 passengers or 8.5 percent. Second-quarter ridership did drop a bit, from 1,242 to 1,187, a decrease of 55 riders or 4.43 percent, but overall through the first half of the year, ridership is up 36 passengers.

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