September 18, 2007

Federal Government Grants Airport $1.2 Million

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This August, the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport received $1,285,779 from the federal government. The money will fund three new projects, one of which already affects daily functioning at the airport.
“The grant program provides a framework to make sure the airport meets safety and security standards,” said Robert Nicholas, airport manager of the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport.
Although the grant will provide money to enhance the airport, it will not have an effect on ticket prices, as those costs are maintained by the individual airlines that serve the airport.
Known as an entitlement grant, the funds come from the Federal Aviation Administration and are awarded annually to most commercial airports in the United States. The number of passengers that fly in and out of an airport determines the size of each year’s grant. Nicholas and the Airport Administration maintain a five-year plan of necessary projects, which they review annually and then submit to the FAA.
Each airport then “[has] fairly significant sway over how we spend our money. By and large, the FAA will honor requests for how to spend the money unless they have a more pressing safety concern,” said Nicholas.
In sum, Nicholas projects the airport will spend $1.5 million on the three projects. In addition to this year’s entitlement grant from the FAA, the airport has approximately $300,000 left over from last year’s grant. In a press release, U.S. Rep. Michael A. Arcuri (D-24th) said that the “funds will help to make sure the airport can continue to serve as a point of growth and development in the region.”
The first project for the Ithaca Airport is two-fold. First, the terminal loop road will be repaved. The road, Culligan Drive, connects the terminal and the parking lots to Brown Road. Secondly, both the short-term and long-term parking lots will be repaved. During the project, only one lot will be open at a time. The short-term lot reopened Monday afternoon when the long-term lot closed. Work began on Sept. 4 and is expected to be completed by mid-October, according to the airport’s website. The website encourages passengers “to seek alternative transportation to the airport when the long-term lot closes due to limited space in the short-term lot.”
The second project is a sweeping security system upgrade. Closed circuit television cameras will be installed throughout the airport. Funds will also go toward the purchase of a new standby generator. During past power outages, the old generator only supplied power to some systems, not including security. With the new generator, all systems will continue to work during a power outage.
The most technological aspect of the upgrade involves ID cards. Currently, airport employees gain access to restricted areas with the swipe of an ID card. In the future, they will need to have their thumbprint verified as well, to ensure that the correct individual is using the ID card. Nicholas said that the incorporation of biometrics into ID verification will not affect every employee, only those with access to the airside of the terminal and the airfield.
The third project planned for this year at the airport is obstruction clearance. Approaching airplanes need a clear line of visibility to the runway. Trees have to be routinely trimmed or cut down when they grow too large and begin to affect visibility. The timeline for this project has not yet been determined.
Of the three projects, the repaving of the terminal loop road and parking lots will have the most direct effect on airport visitors. Fencing around the short-term parking lot blocks certain sidewalks to the terminal and no sidewalks line the terminal loop road, creating an unregulated pedestrian environment.
Despite the construction obstacles, some residents were not deterred from using the airport.
When asked about the construction, Amy Rogge of Erieville, N.Y., who was picking up a friend at the airport, said, “We’re just happy to be here. We don’t care if it’s closed. It’s not New York City.”