Not positive news, this. Hopefully the tower doesn't get shut down. From the Ithaca Times:
Photo by Ed Dittenhoefer
Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport
Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport ridership down 9 percent compared to last year
posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:00 am
By Louis DiPietro email@example.com
Ridership numbers at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport are down around 9 percent compared to this time last year, a dip of roughly 5,000 fewer passengers.
The 9-percent decrease in ridership is a loss felt across the board, meaning fewer revenue dollars for other airport services like rental cars and parking fees, said General Manager Bob Nicholas.
“The income of airport is going to be down 9 percent as well,” he said.
Nicholas attributes fewer riders to the uncertainty surrounding automatic federal spending cuts, or sequestration, which threatened closure of 149 nationwide air-traffic control towers with contracted employees last spring. Ithaca-Tompkins was one of those towers.
The closures were ultimately averted amid safety concerns and delays at airports across the country, but Nicholas suspects the news didn’t settle well with would-be passengers flying out of Ithaca-Tompkins.
He believes passengers that would have otherwise booked their summer flights out of Ithaca went instead with other neighboring airports.
“Our numbers were doing remarkably well until the threat to the control towers,” he said. “There was confusion whether it meant loss of air service. When people are booking flights, they want some kind of certainty.”
Coming off 2012, which saw nearly 117,000 enplanements in Ithaca, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, Ithaca-Tompkins was identified as a possible candidate to have its control tower closed under sequestration.
In response, Tompkins, like other communities with similarly affected airports, then filed suit against the FAA, and county leaders and Nicholas pressured lawmakers to act. Only after the forced furloughing of FAA employees caused flight delays nationwide did the Feds respond, issuing a less rigorous spending plan and restoring funding to airports with contracted control towers. Ithaca’s control tower appears safe from federal cuts through September 2014, Nicholas said.
“The airport has done a ton of work to have a great air service,” he said. “Then, with nonsense like this, all those years sort of just unravel.”
While sequestration may be a reason for the decrease in airport numbers this year, there are other factors at play.
According to Ithaca College’s Index of Economic Activity in Tompkins County, a month-to-month composite of the area’s economic health, passenger numbers at Ithaca-Tompkins Regional have been down each month through May compared with last year. That includes January and February, before word of sequestration and control tower closings began to surface publicly around early March.
Nicholas said the drop in January and February 2013 numbers, roughly 8 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively, reflects the airport’s loss of flights to LaGuardia in New York City in March 2012. Comparing such months with last year isn’t apples to apples, he said, since the airport no longer has service there.
“We didn’t start comparing apples to apples until we got to April,” he said.
In an effort to boost numbers, Ithaca-Tompkins has set aside additional money for advertising to inform potential customers that air service at Ithaca hasn’t waned, he said.
Wherever would-be Ithaca customers are booking their flights, it isn’t with Elmira-Corning Regional Airport.
“We’re also down a little bit this year,” said Manager Ann Crook.
The Elmira airport control tower remotely handles flights into Ithaca’s airport during late evening and early morning hours. It’s staffed with FAA employees and wasn’t considered for closure.
Crook guesses fewer folks are traveling these days because the economy is still recovering.
“I’m not linking it to sequestration because our airport numbers are down,” she said. “Economic indicators are down, too, like room tax and sales tax.”
That may be so in the Southern Tier, but administration at Syracuse Hancock International Airport says the improving economy is one reason why its ridership numbers are up 3 to 3.5 percent over last year.
“We can attribute it to a couple things,” said Commissioner of Aviation Christina Callahan. “The economy is recovering, and people have more discretionary money to spend on destination flights to places like Disney.”
Callahan also credited expanded flight service, like Delta flights to Minneapolis, as well as larger aircraft at the Syracuse airport, which enplaned roughly 970,000 passengers last year, according to FAA statistics.
The percentage of passenger capacity on outbound Syracuse flights is in the low 90s, she said.
“That’s very good,” she said, adding that Albany International Airport is also experiencing higher ridership numbers this year.
Administration at Greater Binghamton Airport did not return phone calls as of press time Tuesday.