County executive sees opportunity at Dunkirk airport

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy Hangar and fuel prices might be expensive at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, but they aren’t at the Dunkirk airport. County Executive George Borrello says he wants to market the airport in Sheridan as a more affordable alternative for those going to Buffalo via private jet.

Chautauqua County’s top elected official says he has a vision for a county asset that’s undergone improvements and a recent switch in its service provider.

The Dunkirk airport is approaching its third month since the fixed-base operator of 30-plus years, Dunkirk Aviation, announced its departure. County legislators, who at the time were surprised by the announcement, agreed to go with Chautauqua Regional Economic Development Corp. through July 2018 for aircraft fueling, handling and hangaring.

The change went into effect Nov. 1. George Borrello entered as county executive two months later. Borrello says the Dunkirk airport is a better option for those heading via private aircraft to Buffalo or other areas than going to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport directly.

“Right now from what I’m told, getting a hangar is difficult and expensive. And fuel is relatively expensive,” Borrello said regarding the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. “We’re building a new hangar in Dunkirk. We have a runway that can accommodate jet service. We want to market ourselves as an affordable alternative not far away from Buffalo.”

Borrello says there’s opportunity not only with Athenex coming to Chautauqua County, but also people coming to the region whether it’s Buffalo or Erie, Pennsylvania. Borrello said having a viable airport in the north end of the county is important.

“It’s a critical asset in my opinion,” Borrello said.

County Airports Manager Ron Almeter said takeoffs and landings per year at the airport total around 22,000. While winter months can be slow, Almeter says the airport is seeing a steady stream of business aviation travelers.

“They represent a good revenue stream because they typically buy fuel and pay healthy landing fees to park their aircraft day or overnight,” Almeter said.

County revenue generated from the Dunkirk airport totaled a little more than $46,300 in 2016. Legislators projected revenue to be $40,095 in 2018. The county’s adopted budget for 2018 shows expenditures at $207,726.

Runways at the airport were recently resealed and resurfaced. Almeter said pilots are excited about the conditions of the taxiways, aprons and navigation aids.

In addition, a project mainly funded through the Federal Aviation Administration will begin this spring to reconstruct a taxiway. State funds were recently awarded to support the construction of a hangar.

However, a long-term FBO solution is one question that remains unanswered. The county is putting together language to solicit bids. Almeter said they’re looking anywhere from a five- to a 10-year contract. Borrello said he hopes to see someone who wants to make a good go of it at the airport.

“We’re not going to completely reject the idea of CREDC running it,” Borrello said. “But we want to examine alternatives for an FBO that wants to grow that airport and help us grow that income there. I don’t want someone to come and just kind of maintain the status quo. We want to grow.”

Through CREDC as the FBO, Almeter said they’re continuing to meet the needs of based aircraft owners and transiting aircraft. With a manager, part-time employee and full-time employee, the team is leaner compared to the days of Dunkirk Aviation as there’s no more aircraft sales and instruction.

“Operationally, we’re meeting all of our constituent and patron needs, and financially, the operation is cash flowing,” Almeter said.

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