Ground was broken Tuesday for the final phase of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport's runway extension project -- 400 feet of new blacktop that will increase the runway's length to 8,000 feet and allow it to be used by larger jets.
The $9 million project, scheduled for completion late next year, will also include extending the airport's taxiway, an engineered material-arresting system to meet safety standards, lighting and the relocation of the facility's aircraft navigational aids.
Allowing larger jets to service the airport and the growing number of passengers there could also mean the addition of more destinations from the Big Flats facility, airport manager Ann Crook said. Fifty-passenger regional jets used by Northwest-Delta and USAirways are to be retired over the next 12 to 18 months and replaced with 100-passenger regional jets that require a longer runway.
"Any jets that the air carriers want to fly here, we'll be ready for and we can now talk seriously about more destinations," Crook said. "Our next step will be doing things to accommodate the people who will be using the airport."
County officials have reported a 25 percent increase in passenger counts at the airport and that growth rate hasn't shown any signs of slowing. At the same time, the airport's parking lots have been expanded, the bathrooms in the terminals have been renovated, new storage hangars have been built and a concrete apron was added to the existing runway.
"Runway extension is the one project that really brings out anti-airport factions in a community," Crook said. "But we were able to work with the community, address their concerns about this project so there'll be no slowing of our growth."
While the project was being developed, neighboring residents were concerned about the possibility that Sing Sing Creek would have to be diverted and a portion of Chambers Road would have to be realigned to accommodate the longer runway.
But by incorporating the engineered material-arresting system into the end of the new runway, the need for a longer extension was eliminated. The system is a crushable concrete that acts like mud to slow the aircraft more quickly than if it were on solid ground, in the event the aircraft overruns the runway.
For the future, Crook's to-do list includes relocating the taxiway, which runs parallel to the main runway, farther away from the terminal to help reduce crowding near boarding gates. She also said she and her staff would begin developing a new airport master plan to chart the way for projects that would enable the airport to handle the increased passenger traffic.
Ninety-five percent of the runway extension project is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration. New York's Department of Transportation is providing an additional grant that will cover half of the remaining 5 percent. The remainder will come from a local $4.50 passenger facility charge.
"The extension of our main runway will substantially upgrade the capacity of the local airport by supporting larger aircraft and will enhance the safety for all who use it," said Tom Santulli, Chemung County's executive.
"The airlines serving our airport are at a high-load factor. Passenger numbers are up, business is strong and we are building onto our facilities to meet growing demand. This project will have significant benefit to the region's business community."
Santulli also said the airport's growth is primarily due to the natural gas drilling boom in Pennsylvania's Northern Tier. But the Interstate 86 conversion project, railroad access and the airport's growth are helping to create positives for employment, investment and growth, he said.
"The airport has made a massive difference in the county's ability to achieve what it's achieved," Santulli said.