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Schumer urges FAA to approve runway expansion at Ogdensburg airport

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OGDENSBURG — U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer visited Monday to urge the Federal Aviation Administration to approve a long-awaited runway expansion at Ogdensburg International Airport.

The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority is planning to extend its runway by 1,200 feet to attract larger commercial airliners. The FAA’s stamp of approval is needed before work can begin on the $12 million project.

“The OBPA is ready, willing and able to complete this extension,” Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “The missing ingredient in making the airport and its new agreement with Allegiant a major economic driver in the regional economy is the feds, the FAA, where approval is sitting on somebody’s desk.”

The OBPA announced in June a partnership with Allegiant Air that officials say could increase traffic by up to 40,000 passengers a year with larger jets, which could turn the airport into a regional hub for air travel.

Allegiant Air, based in Las Vegas, operates in 98 cities, including Plattsburgh and Syracuse, using aircraft that can seat 156 to 223 passengers, according to its website. The airline is owned by the Allegiant Travel Co. Potential destinations for travelers, many of whom are expected to be Canadians crossing the border for cheaper fares, have not been announced.

“The Ogdensburg airport needs this critical approval before it can begin the construction that will pave the way for more flights, more revenues and more jobs in our local economy,” Mr. Schumer said in front of St. Lawrence County legislators, county officials and OBPA board members. “It should be a no-brainer for the FAA. But every day we wait is a lost opportunity for the north country. We cannot let bureaucracy hold up the approval process any longer.”

The airport’s terminal will be upgraded and hooked up to city water service. As part of the airport runway expansion, approximately 2,000 feet of Route 68 will be rerouted 250 feet away from its current path to accommodate new fencing around the runway.

OBPA officials are hoping to begin the runway project this year, with new flights taking off in November 2016.

“What normally is a 10-year expansion plan we are collapsing down to two,” OBPA Executive Director Wade A. Davis said.

Cape Air is the only airline currently offering passenger service from Ogdensburg. Flights to Albany, with connecting service to Boston, are on nine-passenger Cessnas. Construction will not interrupt Cape Air flights, Mr. Davis said.

The OBPA also has undertaken a four-year initiative aimed at attracting more commercial air carriers to the airport and turning it into major regional hub for air travel.

“Ogdensburg has announced it is not stopping with Allegiant,” Mr. Schumer said. “A strong airport, like what Ogdensburg is, is poised be in line for more federal dollars. I’ll be working towards bringing those dollars to our airport up here as I have done for Watertown, Plattsburgh and those other airports that meet those criteria.”

OBPA Chairman Samuel J. LaMacchia said he was appreciative of the senator’s plans to reach out to the FAA.

“There’s a lot of heart and energy in this area waiting to be unharnessed and his coming here means a lot to all of us,” Mr. LaMacchia said. “He is the person that has always delivered.”

“If we’re going to have a vibrant economy in an international location, we need infrastructure. We need services. We need jobs,” county Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly said at a news conference in support of Mr. Schumer’s efforts. “The IDA commends the Bridge and Port Authority for taking the lead on this airport project. We have seen the help that Mr. Schumer can bring to the north country. Massena had issues with Alcoa, where he has been a leading voice, and I am confident that with his help we are going to make real progress.”

Even though Massena’s airport is just 35 miles away and has a longer runway, Mr. Schumer said his presence in Ogdensburg doesn’t mean he endorses one airport over another.

“People forget that St. Lawrence County has over 100,000 people,” he said. “It is a significant population center, and it is also our largest county in New York. Geographically, to have an airport here and one in Massena is a good thing. And a little competition will never hurt.”

Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, who said he was invited to, but did not attend, Monday’s announcement said he had been given the same assurances by the senator’s staff.

“They wanted to assure me that is Massena continued to make improvements to its airport, he would support us as well,” Mr. Gray said. “That’s what the senatory does.”

Noting that Mr. Schumer typically flies in and out of Massena when visiting St. Lawrence County, Mr. Gray said he had no reason to doubt the senator’s word.

“He typically flies into Massena and when he’s up here nine times out of ten he comes to Massena,” Mr. Gray said, adding Monday’s announcement will have no bearing on planned improvements at the airport in Massena.

Mr. Gray also questioned whether the Allegiant deal is actually as good as the OBPA is portraying it to be.

“I’m anxious for the OBPA to publicly release its signed contract with Allegiant Air,” he said, noting he would like to see language related to the $1 million coming from Allegiant to upgrade the terminals at Ogdensburg International Airport.

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