Cornellians and Ithaca residents may soon enjoy nonstop travel from Ithaca Tompkins International Airport to Washington, D.C. thanks to a new $750,000 federal grant to the airport through the Department of Transportation.
The airport announced on Oct. 3 that it had received the grant as part of the Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program. The initiative is intended to assist regional airports in developing more extensive air service, according to its website.
The grant money is intended to re-attract service to Washington Dulles International Airport, which was cut in 2022 and replaced with a twice-daily flight to Newark Liberty International Airport which continues today, in addition to two flights a day to New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
This positive development comes in the wake of a significant loss of local flights due to the pandemic and a nationwide pilot shortage. Since the pandemic, the Ithaca airport has faced several headwinds, including losing flights to Detroit, Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Despite these challenges, New York’s senators, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), both expressed their pride in the airport securing the grant.
“I am proud to have secured this federal investment for Ithaca Tompkins International Airport to help attract new direct flights from Ithaca to our nation’s capital,” Schumer said in a press release from the airport.
Gillibrand agreed and said she expected the funding would aid regional economic development by meeting the area’s transportation needs.
Much effort went into compiling the grant application, according to airport director Roxan Noble. She noted that Schumer and Gillibrand — along with various local entities such as Cornell, Ithaca College and the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce — wrote letters of support. Other stakeholders helped gather information for the grant application, too.
“It took a village to win the grant, and it will take the community, including Cornell’s students, to fly to [Ithaca] and keep the service,” Noble wrote in an email to The Sun.
The Ithaca-to-Washington route, once popular among Cornell students, is the top priority for the airport to reimplement using this funding.
“The primary objective of the grant is to encourage an airline to introduce a new direct flight connecting Ithaca with Washington, D.C., creating greater accessibility for travelers in the region,” said Chris Stephany, the airport’s marketing and air service development administrator in a press release. “This grant underscores ITH’s relentless dedication to meeting the evolving travel needs of our residents and visitors alike.”
If the seats on the potential flights to Washington are consistently full, it may encourage the airport and airlines to expand service between Ithaca and more destinations, hopefully driving even more demand, Noble added.
Just as Noble had hoped, several Cornell students who travel frequently to the Washington area hope to take advantage of a potential new flight.
Lauren Richardson ’26 — who is from the Washington suburbs — typically spends a day or two driving with her family to get to and from Ithaca and is sometimes delayed by Washington traffic and poor road conditions closer to campus. This means she only goes back home one or two times per semester.
“I think [a new route to Washington] would make it a lot easier [to go home]. Being able to fly down, I would probably go back home more often — for fall break and February break,” Richardson said. “It would definitely make me feel a lot better to save friends and family the difficulties of driving down.”
Duncan Buckerfield ’26 — who is not a Washington resident — concurred with Richardson. Buckerfield travels from Ithaca to Washington three to four times a year to visit friends and family. Since coming to Cornell, he claims to have tried it all, having flown, taken the bus and taken the Amtrak (and sometimes a combination) to make the journey.
“It cuts the travel time down immensely,” Buckerfield said. “That makes going to visit family and friends a lot more accessible.”
In fact, a direct flight from Ithaca to Washington would take approximately one hour compared to six by bus or car before traffic, according to Noble.
“[A new route to Washington] would become the preferred method [of travel] for me,” Buckerfield said, though he stressed that this would only be if the airfare remained reasonable. “It would definitely be my first choice.”
Evan Liberman ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].