3 Northern New York Airports Vie for Big Sky Facility

Dec. 14 -- Three north country communities will be courting Big Sky Airlines to locate a maintenance facility at their airport should the airline carrier receive a federal subsidy.

The Billings, Mont., carrier is looking for a hangar large enough to fit a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D by late April, said Big Sky Airlines President Fred L. deLeeuw. The maintenance facility would employ about 20 people, mostly airplane mechanics and service technicians.

The facility would become the carrier's base for maintenance in the Northeast, servicing a fleet of eight airplanes. The planes would be rotated on the route from Boston to be serviced.

"We're going to need a maintenance facility, and it's going to be needed at one of the airports," Mr. deLeeuw said.

Big Sky Airlines and Air Midwest have submitted proposals to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the Essential Air Service agreement to provide air service to Watertown, Ogdensburg and Massena.

The EAS agreement with current carrier Air Midwest, which provides flights from the three communities to Pittsburgh, expires Feb. 28. Big Sky Airlines has proposed to provide flights to Boston. The federal DOT is expected to make its decision in January.

Mr. deLeeuw said the carrier would choose a location for the maintenance facility within 60 days of beginning flights.

The Watertown, Ogdensburg and Massena international airports have sufficient hangar space for Big Sky's maintenance operation, but none of the hangars are heated, representatives said. All three airports would consider options from installing heating units in hangars to constructing new buildings to secure the maintenance facility.

Watertown International Airport, run by Jefferson County, has a 10,000-square-foot hangar available next to the fire and rescue building, airport manager James L. Lawrence said. The hangar was constructed in either the 1930s or 1940s.

Ogdensburg International Airport, operated and owned by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, has a sizable hangar attached to the passenger terminal, OBPA Executive Director Wade A. Davis said. The hangar was built in the 1930s.

Massena International Airport, operated and owned by the town of Massena, has an 8,000-square-foot hangar available, town Supervisor Gary W. Edwards said.

Boston's Logan International Airport wasn't seriously considered for the maintenance facility because the plane serving the route would be parked overnight at one of three north country airports, Mr. deLeeuw said.

The jobs created from the maintenance operation center is another positive for the north country, local officials said. The salaries of airplane mechanics and service technicians can range from $18 to $34 an hour, based on experience, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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