Collins praises airport development

Aug 3, 2017

BATAVIA — As both a Congressman and a businessman, Rep. Chris Collins was impressed by what he saw at the Genesee County Airport Wednesday.

Finishing his inaugural tour of the Saile Drive airfield’s year-old terminal and walking near an aging runway set for a $3 million FAA-backed replacement, Collins, R-Clarence, said first impressions matter to aerial arrivals.

Collins came to Batavia to tout the federal investment into the county-owned airport, but left thinking of private investors and companies that land in Genesee County as they scout out locations for factories, retail spaces and commercial offices.

“The message (the airport) sends is that this is a county that gets it, (Genesee) is business-friendly and knows how to take care of its infrastructure ... that’s what’s important to business,” Collins said, noting that having a new terminal shows capabilities beyond the rural, low-population nature of the region.

A delegation of county officials were on hands to detail the growth of the airport, but Collins met no better representatives than the group of pilots-in-training from the Western New York Aviation Adventure Camp.

“Have you stalled an airplane, or just heard the buzzer go off?” he asked the teenaged aviators.

They responded that they went into a spin.

They had all been upside-down, an instructor added, with two boys having got to fly a P-51 Mustang.

Collins, who explained later that he earned his wings on a Cessna 150, told campers a pilot’s license was a goal he reached early in his business career, using his bonus money for lessons. He flew solo after just four years of instruction, and then did touch-and-gos at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station amid the base’s fighter planes of past missions.

“It’s fun to fly,” he told them. “It’s freeing. You’re in control.”

Genesee has received more than $17 million in federal support for the aircraft in the past 17 years, County Manager Jay Gsell said, and Collins was quick to defend the expenditure. In rural areas, he told gathered reporters, airports are essential for business, safety and travel.

“It’s a role we play,” Collins said. “It will pay dividends down the road.”

As an operation, Genesee County leases space for a flight school, as well as Boshart Enterprises, an aircraft maintenance business, and dozens of pilots. County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens, who oversees the airport, said that with fuel sales, the county’s endeavor pays off.

“It’s unique that the county runs it, and it’s also unique in that it turns a profit,” Hens told Collins. “That doesn’t happen at a lot of small airports. I think it’s our location, our operation that makes it happen.”

Entrepreneur and aviation camp backer Pete Zeliff greeted Collins to explain his deep interest in the airport while showing off his recovery from a January crash. Zeliff is building the airport’s fifth private hangar — using some of the old terminal’s steel in the design — to accommodate even more jets.

“We get probably one to two corporate jets in each week, and my goal is to get the corporate guys to base out of here,” Zeliff said. “We’ve had corporate guys in Buffalo and Rochester that have expressed interest, but there’s been nowhere to put them.”

The trip temporarily halted construction on the former terminal building, which has been demolished and will become a runway apron. Hens expects construction on the new runway to launch after the winter, with phased work keeping the runway open for all but two weeks of the 45 to 60-day project.

He told Collins that the improvements will allow heavier aircraft to land in Batavia, from a current max of around 47,000 pound Learjet 35’s to 65,000 pound Cessna Citation X’s. Its the difference between a six-seat small business jet to a 12-seater.

Having a better airport, a better runway, will bring more jets in, Zeliff said. They buy 1,000 gallons of fuel compared to 20 gallons for the hobby planes that meandered overhead.

By Jim Krencik, The Daily News