Public airport draws private planes
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Public airport draws private planes

Aug 3, 2017

BATAVIA — The runways at Genesee County Airport are less frequently traveled than the Thruway or Route 33, but they see a fair share of traffic.

But its not just Cessnas flying over Saile Drive. County officials on a tour with Chris Collins said the airport gets some interesting guests.

Business leaders

A CEO with a seven-figure salary makes thousands of dollars an hour. So being stuck in security or waiting at bag check at a major airport is a costly delay.

Hens said that’s why an executive going to Galveston might use the Batavia airport instead of driving to Buffalo, flying to Houston and then driving there.

“These guys with the money and means, the strategy is to rent the private jet and go straight from Batavia to Galveston,” said County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens, who oversees the airport.

County Manager Jay Gsell said that’s what the new ownership group of the former Genesee County Nursing Home did while negotiating the deal.

“They don’t drive in, they fly in,” Gsell said. “It’s plain and simple.”

Even “small” businesses do it, Hens said. Tompkins Financial flies in officials to and from Ithaca on a regular basis. Hodgins Printing, National Grid, RG&E, Western New York Energy ...

“The corporate jet will roll up, the doors come down and two guys in coveralls will walk off with lunch bags and tools,” to head to maintenance jobs, Hens said.

Duncan Berkeley of Graham Corporation built one of the first hangars at the airport to get to commercial airports for international flights.

Government Personnel

The county airport also gets active use by agencies like the Immigration and Naturalization Service for cases at Batavia’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility.

Mercy Flight has long been based at the airport, with Batavia and Buffalo the main locations for the multi-county service.

Gsell said that even the governor flies here. When there was the big unveiling for H.P. Hood’s fluid milk facility, Andrew Cuomo and Hood officials landed here.

“Cuomo 1, or whatever they call it, lands here,” Gsell said.

The rich and famous

As they tour wound down, talk turned to the Buffalo Bills and their training camp. Hens perked up. After the Bills moved camp to St. John Fisher College, the team’s owner, the late Ralph Wilson, Jr., would fly from his home in Michigan to Batavia, taking car service to Pittsford.

Hens said the airport’s staff enjoy visits from transient traffic, especially acts performing at Darien Lake.

“We’ve had Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Hootie in the Blowfish, Zac Brown Band ... the guys that work the terminals love it, because they usually give them all the food from the plane, they take pictures with them — no paparazzi,” Hens said.

Everyone else, too

In all, the airport has 68 planes based at it, many of them small planes. A few drifted overhead Wednesday while officials spoke.

Students from the Western New York Aviation Adventure Camp where working on the ground, but they too have taken to the air above Batavia.

Even aviation enthusiasts flying to air shows around the country use the airport. Hens said they use Batavia like a way station to refuel.

By Jim Krencik, The Daily News

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