With new customs agent, Griffiss can accept international arrivals

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A long-sought objective at Griffiss International Airport has been accomplished — a full-time, on-site U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent is now working at Griffiss, at the county’s expense.

The airfield can now accept international arrivals direct. If an international plane flies into the United States, it must stop at an airport with a customs facility before going anywhere else.

Until last month, if the final destination of an international flight was Griffiss, it had to stop at another airport first for the necessary customs clearance. As an alternative, advance arrangements could be made to have customs personnel from another airport, like Syracuse’s Hancock, meet the plane when it landed at Griffiss.

The agent began working in the newly constructed customs facility May 18 and by Friday had cleared three international flights, including two Boeing 747s headed for one of the aircraft maintenance centers at Griffiss. When an aircraft is expected outside of normal business hours, customs officials will work with the airport to make sure it is covered.

A permanent customs presence is seen as a value-added service for the aircraft maintenance and overhaul facilities whose customers sometimes send planes to Griffiss from foreign starting points.

Additionally, it is hoped that having a customs facility will help attract more international flights, boosting fuel sales. More than a million gallons were sold last year. The county is paid 8 cents for every gallon of aircraft fuel sold by ground services provider Million Air.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Legislators’ Republican caucus, Majority Leader George E. Joseph, R-10, Westmoreland, said Million Air has started publicizing to the aviation community the availability of an on-site customs agent.

The county paid to construct the multimillion-dollar facility to specifications required by Customs and Border Protection. The federal service is charged no rent. Additionally, the county is paying for the agent’s salary.

Efforts to land a customs agent go back at least six years. The plan changed several times over the years.

Some other recent airport developments:

Operations drop

Air traffic is down for the first four months of this year by about 20 percent. Griffiss does not have commercial passenger service.

Traffic is at its lowest level for the January to April period in the last five years. There were 6,356 takeoffs and landings during this period in 2015, according to figures compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration. That’s down 1,608 from the same four months a year ago.

The 2014 total of 7,964 operations for January to April was the second lowest in the last five years.

The busiest first four months of any year since 2011 came in 2012 where there were 18,086 takeoffs and landings — nearly three times greater than this year’s total for the same period.

Here’s a look at the number of takeoffs and landings between January and April over the last five years: 2015: 6,356; 2014: 7,964; 2013: 11,269; 2012: 18,570; and 2011, 17,120.

The county airport was moved to Griffiss in 2007.

Terminal space lease

A third lease has been approved for space in the new terminal building at Griffiss International Airport. And a fourth one is about to take off.

Galaxy Aviation, a pilot training school, has agreed to a three-year agreement. The first year’s rent is $6,498. By year three the charge grows to $6,894. Adam Brement is the operator.

The new terminal building opened in January. Galaxy was formerly located in the nearby Building 100.

The Oneida County Board of Legislators approved the lease Wednesday.

Lawmakers approved the first two leases for space in the terminal building for last month. They were for Freeman Holdings of New York, LLC, which provides ground services at Griffiss under the Million Air name, and Avis Budget Car Rental. Both had operated out of Building 100.

Freeman is signed up for 10 years. The monthly rent is $8,312 for the first year and $9,663 for years two through 10. It has not paid rent until now under terms of the agreement struck when Freeman took over ground services for the county more than six years ago.

Avis will pay $2,800 a month for five years.

On the horizon is a a fourth lease. A tentative two-year agreement has been reached with Learn to Fly, Inc., a new tenant at the airport. The rent is $2,619 annually.

The Board of Legislators still has to approve the lease.

Medical service lands

Mercy Flight Central has landed at Griffiss with a helicopter and crew. The air medical service responds to severe situations such as motor vehicle accidents where time is critical.

Mercy Flight is stationing and staffing one of its helicopters at the airfield from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week through Labor Day. It is using part of a hangar in Building 100. The county has agreed to pay Mercy Flight a $12,500 subsidy.

The service is headquartered in Canandaigua and also has a base in Marcellus, Onondaga County.

Taxiway improvements

The next phase of the ongoing rehabilitation of the airport’s taxiways is underway. Federal dollars are paying for this work.

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