April 3, 2001

Airport Changes to Affect Local Areas

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Flying to New York City may no longer be as easy as a trip to the nearest airport, as changes at La Guardia and Syracuse airports threaten the customer appeal of Tompkins County Airport.

To decrease congestion at La Guardia, airport managers are proposing to auction landing space to the highest bidder. To offset the high price of this space, airlines would only route large planes with high capacity to La Guardia. Smaller planes with fewer people, namely planes from small airports in less-populated areas like Ithaca, would have to fly to other airports or be routed through another airport before flying to La Guardia.

“Where that [landing] space is so precious, it doesn’t make sense to have planes with 19 people holding up planes with 300 people,” said Alfred Kahn, the Robert Julius Thorne Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus.

“People who live upstate cannot expect the conveniences of living in a city,” Kahn added. “Besides, the whole idea of deregulation is that people without a lot of money can get discount seats by flying to less convenient airports.”

Although this proposal may reduce congestion at La Guardia, Barbara Blanchard, chair of the Airport Service Task Force for the Tompkins County Board of Representatives, fears that Ithaca’s economy may suffer if Tompkins County Airport can no longer provide direct access to New York City.

“The airport has been identified as the most important asset for attracting business that [Ithaca] has,” Blanchard said.

Blanchard emphasized that the task force is working to ensure the future strength of Ithaca’s airport.

“We are in close contact with major airlines to make them understand that they really do have a market here,” she said.

Another threat to Ithaca’s airport is competition with Syracuse Hancock International Airport’s newest airline, Jet Blue. Kahn praised Jet Blue as the epitome of the low-priced airline, but Blanchard voiced concerns about the possible effects of a discount airline in Syracuse on the Ithaca economy.

“For most flights, there is a very marginal difference or even none at all between flights from Syracuse and Ithaca,” Blanchard said. “But people would go to Syracuse if they could save several hundred dollars with Jet Blue.”

To improve name recognition and increase business, the Air Service Task Force plans to change the name of Tompkins County Airport to Ithaca Regional Airport.

“The name change was recommended by a marketing group,” Blanchard explained. “If we incorporate Ithaca in the name of the airport, it will benefit promotion of Ithaca, and people are more aware of the name Ithaca than Tompkins County.”

“Adding the word ‘regional’ better describes that the airport serves a large area, not just a small town,” said Michael Stamm, a member of the Tompkins County Board of Representatives.

Several students who frequently fly from Tompkins County Airport expressed concern about Ithaca’s economy, but emphasized that convenience and thrift are their primary considerations.

“[Changes at La Guardia] would make traveling to New York City a lot more inconvenient,” Michelle Behrend ’03 said. “I would definitely look into other modes of transportation.”

“I’d definitely fly Jet Blue if I could save a lot of money,” John Szczepanski ’02. “The savings would definitely outweigh the inconvenience of going to Syracuse.”

Blanchard anticipated students’ desire to save money, but emphasized the importance of a successful local airport.

“Fly from Ithaca!” she said. “Ultimately, a good economy in Ithaca benefits students as well.”

Archived article by Elisa Jillson