Massena Int'l Airport Air Traffic Study Contract to Be OK'd

Oct. 25--MASSENA -- When the three-year effort is finished, more than $750,000 of federal and local cash and in-kind services could be spent to make Massena International Airport a regional base for international and national travelers.

Behind the effort is the St. Lawrence Valley Air Task Force, formed in July 2004.

Town Council members will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and are expected to approve a contract with Innova Aviation Consulting for studies to gather market information aimed at attracting more carriers to the airport, which is the first step in the three-year process.

Mesa Air, a US Airways affiliate, now provides all commercial service at the airport.

The process is funded in part by a $400,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded to the town in August. The task force worked to secure the grant, which is officially taken by the town that owns the airport.

So far, the task force has secured $65,000 of the needed $150,000 in matching funds. Of that, $50,000 is promised from the town and $15,000 from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, said Patricia R. Tubbs, a representative of the Massena Business Development Corp. and task force co-chairwoman.

The task force needed to raise only $50,000 in matching funds to begin two studies in 2006. They are slated to be finished in June, said Lynn G. McDeitt, managing director at Innova. The first is market research and analysis and will analyze outbound and inbound travel. The second is airline analysis and marketing, and will look at the profitability, cost, connectivity and capacity of air service in Massena.

The results of these studies are pivotal. If they show potential for another carrier to make a profit flying out of Massena, the effort goes on; if not, the federal money is withdrawn and everything stops, Mrs. McDeitt said.

If the studies show potential for increased service, that will help the task force persuade businesses and colleges to contribute the remaining $95,000 of matching funds.

The task force will, with possible help from consultants, develop incentive programs to attract the kind of air service the studies found would thrive in the north country. The incentives could include subsidies for startup costs and revenue guarantees as well as in-kind services. Any money used to subsidize the airline's startup or to guarantee profit would have to be raised in addition to the federal grant's matching funds, Mrs. McDeitt said.

The goal of the task force is to establish an airline that would not depend on in-kind services or subsidies in the long term.

Once an airline has given a written commitment to serve Massena, the task force will shift its efforts to use grant money toward marketing the airport to travelers.

Earlier this month, Innova presented a smaller study of the airport's potential. It said the airport loses about 95 percent of potential passengers to larger airports in Montreal, Burlington, Vt., and Syracuse. Based on a comparison with similar-size markets, it could have about 113,976 passengers, the study determined. Currently, about 5,587 passengers board in Massena.

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