By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO March 01, 2002 On the heels of a major facelift, county officials are looking to actively market the new and improved Sullivan County International Airport.
Through the last several years, improvements have been made to allow the airport to accommodate the economic development that officials hope will sweep through the county during the next few years. And theyre not done yet: the latest improvement, the rehabilitation of the taxiways, was approved by the Sullivan County Legislature just yesterday.
The airport is operated through a partnership between the county's Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Over the last five years, more than $8 million has been invested in the airport. Of that amount, the county provides only $250,000 a year. The majority of the rest comes from federal grants.
Nevertheless, "the airport is one of our children," commented DPW Commissioner Peter Lilholt. "It is a state-of-the-art facility. We try to promote, manage, and maintain it. We believe it will be an asset. It will play a key role in the county's development."
The 30-year-old airport, located in the Town of Bethel, is on 600 acres of land. The runway itself is 6,000 feet in length rivaled regionally only by Stewart Airport in Newburgh.
The taxiway rebuilding project should be done by the end of the year, said Lilholt, complete with new pavement and drainage. That will round out the countys main project to accommodate large air cargo carriers. Officials are hoping that a jetliner cargo company will use the airport as its base of operations.
The airport is currently home to about 30 private airplanes housed in on-site hangars. In the future, more T-hangars, as they are called, will be added, said Lilholt. Corporate jets from Granite Associates (formerly Cablevision) and Frontier Insurance Group are also housed there.
According to Lilholt, there has been a tremendous amount of traffic at the airport of late.
"It is not a ghost town. It is a busy airport," Lilholt remarked. "Numerous groups use it."
"It costs $250,000 . . . each year to run it, but it puts in half a million dollars in the county's pockets," stated DPW Engineer and Airport Manager Bob Trotta. "We are ready to go with the future to easily accommodate growth. We have plenty of spare capacity."
The airport has had inquiries from manufacturers of kit planes and turbine engines, said Lilholt. The infrastructure has been completely overhauled and, the DPW staff points out, it is like a brand new airport.
"It is 100 percent ready and capable for any growth," DPW Deputy Commissioner Phillip Nicoletti said. "We started to prepare for this six or seven years ago. We designed for it. Now we are looking where to take it."
Lilholt points out that, 10 years ago, the airport cost the county $500,000 a year to run. Due to a great deal of streamlining, they were able to reduce those costs including new automated systems that replaced human operators.
In the future, officials want to replace the rotating beacon and add several new safety features. DPW will making a presentation to the Legislature shortly, utilizing the results of a marketing study that was recently completed.
The airport is also the home of the 911 Center and classrooms for fire training. Legislature Chair Rusty Pomeroy, in his State of the County address on Tuesday, said that a new fire training facility would be built there as well.