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Adk Airport: Time for a New Vision?

February 3, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
Is the central question of the Adirondack Regional Airport it’s “operations and cost” or is it the need for a new vision?

First, my hat is off to the newly formed citizen committee.

In order to maximize the potential of new ideas, or re-look at old ones, do we as a region need to step back and ask some larger questions? In order to do so does this need to be an inclusionary process that includes airport users?

As a business, you often get 2 answers from your funding partners when you are facing financial “issues.” These 2 answers are largely dependent on the nature of your financial predicament.

Your normal course of action is to approach the bank that you have a relationship with. Hopefully you will do that before they come calling you.

Typically a banker will want to hear from you:

1. Do you understand what the weaknesses are?

2. Why they happened?

3. What is your plan to rectify them?

#3 can be tricky answer. If it is a minor problem or one that occurred due to an unusual one time occurrence, then you simply can lay out a financial plan that will address it.

For example, the lack of snow this year may adversely reduce skier visits thus impacting income. However, the business proposes to make up for this by offering late season specials. You can also reduce expenses such as overhead, and propose not to purchase new winter equipment this year.

What are the Real Questions?

If however, there is more of a systematic problem that reoccurs over and over again, the bank may want a larger answer. Again in this hypothetical business, if winter after winter or year after year, you lose more money than you make, you can’t keep crying “lack of snow!”

In this case of re-occurring financial issues, the bank may question the very root of your business. Their concern may go from a temporary aberration to questioning the overall viability of your business. Now they may ask more expansive questions:

1. Is your business model viable?

2. Do you need to rethink your vision and key products and services?

3. Is it time to look for new customers or new ways to attract existing ones?

4. Do you need to look at operating the business differently?

5. How will this translate into a positive financial situation?

As part of the new effort to look at the airport, should some of these broader questions be considered?

You Can Only Squeeze A Fruit So Much.

There is no question that financials and operations are the heart of most businesses and the airport is a business. There may be only be so much you can do however from an operational perspective.

The new citizen group may already be considering greater operational and financial questions such as:

1. Should the Town Highway department combine with the airport?

2. Do we need “regional” financial partners to support a “regional” airport such as the surrounding towns and 2 counties?

A Bigger Vision?

But are these questions even large enough? Do they strike at the heart of the matter which is the overall viability of the airport? Do we have the courage to ask the big questions such as:

1. The airport was created many moons ago. What was it created for and is this purpose still valid today?

2. Based on today’s traveler, the new international airport in Plattsburgh, do we need commercial service at the airport?

3. Are there different opportunities we have not considered or taken full advantage of?

a. Greater general aviation traffic?

b. A merger with the 290 acre business park? Aviation related industries that can take advantage of this industrially zoned area that can come right up to the runways?

c. Non-aviation sources of revenue such as the home to a regional highway department between neighboring towns of Brighton, Santa Clara, etc.?

4. New marketing opportunities

5. Management/Ownership

a. Airport authority?

b. Corporate ownership of airport users?

c. Management coordination with Lake Placid airport?

Some of these questions have been asked before and some may be beyond the scope of the current effort.

Some may be able to move forward with a simple meeting of airport users for example.

An Inclusive Process of all the Stakeholders?

I totally understand the interest not to get bogged down into another cumbersome committee.

The airport however is an important regional asset and it may be important to look at all the issues – and possibilities. It may be time to not only look at how the airport operates but to come up with a new vision that realizes its full potential. That potential may or may not have anything to do with how the airport operates today.

To look at this bigger picture, it may be necessary to include stakeholders that can help. Primarily, I am thinking of:

- Airport users

- Larger, non-profit businesses that understand government funds and non-profit accounting practices.

- Marketing perspective: area and regional promotion organizations.

- Funding: banks and economic development organizations.

Again, to keep it simple, these folks can be invited to a series of work sessions in the spring.

Core Committee

Vision Product Marketing Operations Financial

Key tasks Commercial? General Aviation? Non-Aviation Uses?

Key Members

It may be important to explore all possibilities for long-term solutions.

As a Town of Harrietstown taxpayer would it be a success to share the airport cost with Franklin County or other municipalities – absolutely. As a Franklin County resident though my question would be: are we just shifting expenses without coming up with a long-term plan?

A Survey? There has been a lot of numbers put out about the economic impact of the airport.

But which of our communities benefits the most? Who does use the airport? Where are they from? Where are they going? It may also be an idea for potential investors to see who does use the airport. Much of this data already exists. A survey perhaps coordinated through one of our area colleges may be done relatively quickly.

While I am not advocating that this effort goes on incessantly, I also believe that there may be new possibilities based on the new economy.

An Opportunity?

Perhaps there is a plan that would not rely on taxpayers’ shoulders.

We may wish to consider a broader conversation that at least includes airport users. They represent a tremendous resource base and many of them are successful business people. What about asking them to participate of at least hold a meeting to ask them what they think? If they are not interested what does that mean to the future of the facility?

The financials and operation of the facility are important. However, there may be greater issues – and opportunities - that may affect long term viability of - the operation. We have an opportunity to look at long-term solutions and maximize the potential of this important regional asset.

It may not look anything like it operates today to do so.

It may require a new vision.


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