Airport's towering priority

June 9, 2009


Jun. 9--COLONIE -- The Albany County Airport Authority board is moving ahead with its long-sought demolition of the Latham water tower that sits under the approach to its main runway.

Federal stimulus funds to pay for the rest of the project -- about $6.74 million -- were accepted by the board at its regular meeting Monday night.

That should be enough to tear down the 3-million-gallon water tank and a smaller one nearby while replacing them with a new tank farther from the airport.

The tanks won't be demolished, however, until the new one and the water lines running to it are completed and operating.

The authority board also approved an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to raise the passenger facility charge levied on departing travelers from $3 to $4.50. The higher fee likely would be charged beginning in September or October and would pay off a number of improvement projects and equipment purchases undertaken to update the airport and replace its terminal in the late 1990s.

The airport authority also plans to buy 43.3 acres of farmland from the Engel Farm along Albany Shaker Road southeast of the airport for $2.5 million.

The land is in a runway protection zone, an area that must be kept free of obstructions such as buildings and trees. Buying the property ensures it remains clear of obstructions, airport spokesman Doug Myers said.

Myers said farmers Edward and John Engel could lease the land back and continue to raise crops there.

Airport boardings remain below year-earlier levels, according to data provided at the meeting.

The number of boardings through April is down 3.9 percent from year-earlier levels.

But capacity also has been trimmed, and load factors, the percentage of seats filled, rose from 59 percent in January to 75 percent in April.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines, which operates 13 daily flights at Albany, selected Albany as the top "station" in the Southwest system of 64 stations for 2008, airport CEO John O'Donnell announced.

The rating is based on such factors as lost luggage, speed in turning around flights, customer service, on-time performance and safety.

With a recent USA Today report calling Southwest "the best airline, what we have is the best of the best," O'Donnell added.

The airline plans a party for employees in Albany. A replacement staff will be flown in for the day so all employees can attend, airport spokesman Myers said.