TAKING OFF — The steel frame is being erected for a prefabricated metal building to store snow removal equipment at Griffiss International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is paying 90 percent of the project’s cost. The low bids for the project totaled about $2.4 million. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Picente sees Griffiss as ‘cornerstone of development’

Published Mar 4, 2017 at 4:10pm

Griffiss International Airport flies high in the county executive’s State of the County speech.

“This year, we have developed a list of priority projects that we believe will position our airport as a cornerstone of development for the entire region,” Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. told an audience of more than 300 at Daniele’s Banquet Specialists on Thursday. “Together with the state of New York and CenterState CEO, we will embark on creating the future of aviation in Rome.”

His plan takes two different flights: unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, and passenger service.

“We will create the Griffiss UAS (unmanned aerial system) Innovation Center,” said Picente. “This project includes the renovation of Building 100 to create a space for research, development, testing and manufacturing of UAS systems.”

He added, “Along with MVCC (Mohawk Valley Community College), we will develop a UAS technology business incubator inside the center that will be on the frontline of creating high tech businesses in the unmanned aviation industry. In addition, this center will expand current offerings to create a two-year UAS degree program at MVCC.”

Picente’s initiative seeks to capitalize on Griffiss being one of six drone test sites designated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“It just furthers our collaboration,” said Larry Brinker, executive director of test-site manager NUAIR.

The alliance already uses part of Building 100 for its work.

He said the center stands to help position Central New York as a leading location for the advancement of drone research and development standards. He also said the incubator component is a “very important element” of where the growing UAS industry is going in the U.S.

The possibility of commercial passenger flights returning to the county has been floated periodically since the county airport moved from Whitestown to the former Griffiss Air Force Base in 2007.

Passenger service ended at the old county airport in 2002. The flights were grounded because of low passenger numbers.

Griffiss does not have a terminal to serve passengers. The current thinking at Griffiss is that a facility for passengers is what’s needed to land a commercial airline.

“Our airport will embark on becoming a commercial hub for regional travel to support new business and tourism travelers,” said Picente. “We will seek the assistance of the state in constructing a 20,000-square-foot passenger terminal building addition that will provide increased economic development opportunities to the region’s businesses.”

​The building that houses the airfield’s ground services provider and the U.S. Customs office was designed and constructed with future expansion in mind.

Aviation Commissioner Russell Stark pitched the attributes of Griffiss and the potential market it serves to five airlines at a conference last year. Similar events are on the horizon for the commissioner this year.

Picente also said the airport will expand the operation space to accommodate Premier Aviation Overhaul Center’s growing customer base.

Additionally, the county wants to help make sure there are workers Premier can hire.

“We will expand our MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) career education pipeline by expanding MVCC’s airframe and power certificate training program allowing more students to complete the program and be hired right here in Oneida County,” said Picente.

The college operates an aviation technician training school at Griffiss.

The airport currently handles mostly corporate and private planes. Also, the Premier’ aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul operation brings in large planes.

Rome ​Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo said she was appreciative of the attention given to the county airport in Picente’s speech.

“The initiatives for UAS are very good for Rome,” she said. The mayor added that, “It’s good to know it is on the county’s radar.”

Izzo also said that, “We know that some of Premier’s people are buying houses in the area.”

By the numbers:

Operations

Landings and takeoffs were at their lowest level last year for the decade that Griffiss has been the county airport.

There were 25,269 operations in 2016, according to numbers compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last year’s tally was fifth consecutive drop from the previous year The highest number of takeoffs and landings was 60,265, in 2011.

For 2007, Griffiss’ first year as the county airport, there were 56,142 operations — more than double the 2016 total.

Fuel sales

Fuel sales dropped at the airport for the second straight year in 2016. Last year’s total of 775,153 gallons is the second lowest during the last eight years.

Million Air has handled ground services, including fuel sales, at Griffiss since 2008.

It pays the county eight cents for each gallon of aviation fuel it sells. 

The highest number of gallons sold in a year between 2009 and 2016 was 1,076,779 in 2014. The lowest total was 559,890 in 2009, which was Million Air’s first full year at Griffiss.

The eight-year average is 848,698 gallons.