Central New York Boasts 39 Airports

April 10, 2007
Public airports, such as Hancock, Airlane and the county airports, are outnumbered by private airports in Central New York.

With warmer weather comes the familiar sound of bird song, buzzing bees and the hum of single-engine airplanes moving through the skies of Central New York.

This, airport operators say, is the time of year when general aviation pilots shake off winter and take to the sky in greater numbers.

While most Central New Yorkers are familiar with Syracuse's Hancock Airport - if only because that's where the official snow amounts are toted up each year - there are many other airports around the region from which single-engine airplanes take off and land.

Oswego, Oneida and Cortland counties have county-run airports. Oneida County's, the former Griffiss Air Force Base, features an 11,820-foot-long runway. The runway was built during the Cold War for giant bombers.

In contrast, Airlane Enterprises off Verplank Road in Clay, has a single grass runway that is 385 feet long.

That's long enough for the sole plane at the airport, said airport owner Ray Florczyk. At least it is when the ground dries out.

In late March, the runway was too soft for his plane, he said. In past winters, when the airport is covered in snow, Florczyk said some planes would fly in and out on skis.

Public airports, such as Hancock, Airlane and the county airports, are outnumbered by private airports in Central New York.

According to the state Department of Transportation, there are 29 private and 10 public airports in the six-county Central New York region.

The state even lists a seaplane base on Onondaga Lake.

That's not quite accurate, said Dale Grinolds, Onondaga County park superintendent at Onondaga Lake Park. While there is a pontoon plane that lands at the lake once or twice each summer, there really aren't any support facilities.

There's a nice place to park the seaplane next to the marina on the lake's east side, Grinolds said, but that's about it. The park dropped the seaplane base recently, he said, in part because it got so much paperwork from the Federal Aviation Administration. Grinolds said the park figured it would save the FAA the work.

Since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, airports have been under closer scrutiny. Florczyk said his airport has received calls from many law enforcement agencies, from local sheriff's departments to the FBI to the CIA, checking to see if suspicious people have been spotted around the place.

Tightened FAA rules require that airplanes be locked up and secured when on the ground, no matter what type of airport they're using, Florczyk said. At Airlane, he keeps his plane chained to a piece of farm machinery.

Larry Olivia, of Jordan, has been flying since he was 12 and traded mowing the turf at a Western New York airfield for flight time. At 33, he flies his Cessna 172 out of Whitford's Airport in Weedsport.

That airport has a paved and a grass runway. Grass - or "turf" airfields as they are called - aren't a problem for small planes, Olivia said. Landings can be a little softer and much easier on tires, he said.

The past two decades have not been good for general aviation, said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The number of pilots has declined 25 percent since 1980, to fewer than 600,000, he said. And the number of public airports has fallen as well from 6,519 in 1980 to 5,270 in 2005.

Airports, particularly privately owned facilities, have been disappearing. "A lot of it has to do with development pressure," Dancy said.

With a large piece of flat, cleared land, Dancy said, "an owner can see a much better return by selling for development."

Despite that, this spring there are still more than three dozen places in Central New York from which that small plane overhead may have taken to the sky.

Contact Charles McChesney at or 592-7140.