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Jefferson County prepares for upgrades at Watertown airport, plans updates to management structure

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Oct. 9—DEXTER — The Watertown International Airport is on track for some major improvements in the coming years, and Jefferson County officials are preparing the airport’s administration for the expanded responsibilities.

Legislators on the county’s Finance and Rules Committee moved last week to advance Local Law II of 2022, which would restructure the airport’s administration, eliminating the current airport manager position and instituting a director of aviation position in its place.

If approved, airport manager Grant W. Sussey, who has run the facility since 2013, would be appointed as the county’s first director of aviation in 2023. He would be paid $96,000 a year, a raise from the $77,955 the airport manager position is paid as of 2022.

The county operates the airport as a stand-alone department, with no tax money used to support it. Salaries and operational costs are covered by revenues generated at the airport and grants awarded to the facility by state and federal agencies.

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said Mr. Sussey’s job scope has grown significantly since he was first hired, as the airport has grown in size and popularity, serving nearly 50,000 passengers arriving or departing in 2018. While passenger numbers have dipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re expected to return to or surpass pre-pandemic levels within the year.

That expansion of responsibilities requires additional compensation in order to keep the airport attractive to skilled management, and Mr. Hagemann said the new position comes with some plans for when the airport will need a new director, and will better position the airport to attract qualified talent in the future.

“Nothing to do with the gentleman who is currently there, but at some point in time if he moves on, we need to recruit folks of his same caliber,” Mr. Hagemann said. “With the pay scale in place, it’s clear we would not attract the type of qualified candidates that would be required to oversee and operate the international airport as it stands today.”

A lot has changed at the airport over the last decade to make it much more popular, and more intensive to operate.

The airport’s fixed-base operations, essentially its private plane terminals that serve companies, individuals and even the military, is now managed by the airport directly after years under private operation.

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Watertown, Ogdensburg airports awarded $46 million from state for terminal expansions

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New York state has awarded $28 million for a new terminal at Watertown International Airport and $18 million to the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority to expand and renovate Ogdensburg International Airport.

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul announced the projects and the accompanying funding Wednesday in Binghamton as part of $230 million in state grant money to nine upstate airports for revitalization.

“Our upstate airports are our gateways to local economies and make lasting impressions, connecting New Yorkers and tourists to the beautiful destinations that the Empire State has to offer,” Gov. Hochul said in a statement. “By making critical investments to further modernize facilities across upstate New York, we are lifting upstate airports to new heights and providing a 21st century transportation experience that travelers expect and deserve.”

The project at Watertown International Airport will reconstruct and expand the airport’s 20,000-square-foot terminal at the facility in the town of Hounsfield. According to the governor’s office, the project will also include improvements to the Transportation Security Administration screening and baggage handling areas; installation of flight information displays and a visual paging system; construction of additional baggage claim space; construction of a new hold room with modern seating, charging stations, natural lighting and airfield views; and construction of flexible space for restaurant and classroom spaces available to the non-traveling public.

The project will also involve constructing a new jet bridge to accommodate additional aircraft types and improve customer boarding. To accommodate current and future airlines at the airport, additional ticketing counters will be installed. The project also includes installation of a dedicated rental car counter, the governor’s office said.

Ogdensburg airport manager Stephanie L. Saracco said there will be “a lot of upgrades — some you’ll see, some you won’t.”

“They’ll all enhance the customer experience at the airport,” she said.

The terminal renovation will add a convention center that can be used while the airport runs. It will be available to the public.

“There’s going to be expansion of terminal building, and there will be a public event center, room for that where it can be used simultaneously with the airport,” she said. “That area can be expanded and contracted, as necessary, for events or any other kind of public gathering. It will be done so that the airport will continue to operate as normal.”

Ms. Saracco added that an expanded terminal, “from ticketing to gate areas to baggage claim areas,” makes the experience easier for passengers going through the airport.

“It’s easy to navigate right now. It will become easier,” she said. “It has technological upgrades as far as Wi-Fi systems go, air cleaners to enhance our HVAC system for sanitizing the air.”

The interior terminal work upgrading the ventilation system is aimed at preventing the transmission of airborne germs.

“Things that have really come to light during COVID about sanitation of airports, and we’re going to try and use as much of that technology as we possibly can to enhance the safety of everyone in the building,” Ms. Saracco said.

Outdoors, the passenger pickup and drop-off area will be covered. She said they plan to “extend the canopy over the entrance to the airport, so when people either drop off or pick up passengers, they’re in a covered area, making it easier for folks to get in and out of the airport.”

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Watertown airport sees passenger numbers bounce back in 2021

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WATERTOWN — Final passenger tallies are in, and Watertown International Airport’s numbers are bouncing back strongly.

After the COVID-19 pandemic decimated traveler numbers in 2020, the airport reported a 75% increase in passengers arriving and departing in 2021, for a total of 41,897 individual customers served last year.

Airport manager Grant W. Sussey said the facility, owned by Jefferson County and operated as a self-sustaining department, is making a strong comeback as commercial air travel bounces back.

“It’s fantastic to see that people are traveling again,” he said.

He said the evidence of increased travel is everywhere at the airport. The parking lot is full of cars frequently, and the airport’s two daily flights to and from Philadelphia are more full than a year ago.

Mr. Sussey said the relaxing of U.S-Canada border restrictions has meant more Canadians are using the airport as well, and the upcoming vacation season is expected to be a busy one.

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Watertown airport receives millions in federal funds

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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) – Watertown’s airport is getting close to $5 million from the federal government.

Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced Thursday that the Watertown International Airport will receive about $1.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

And Schumer announced the airport is receiving about $4.7 million as its annual subsidy for American Airlines to continue flying there. It’s through the Essential Air Service program and funds 12 nonstop round-trip flights each week from Watertown to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Both awards come through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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Watertown airport celebrates 10 years with American Airlines

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TOWN OF HOUNSFIELD, New York (WWNY) – The Watertown International Airport is celebrating its 10th anniversary of commercial airline service with American Airlines.

Since its first flight on November 17, 2011, more than 390,000 passengers have flown on American Airlines flights from the local airport.

A celebration was held at the airport Wednesday with balloons, cupcakes and a cake cutting.

Passengers on hand for the occasion said they like using the airline and airport because of the free parking, short lines and the staff.

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National Weather Service repairs cancel flights at Watertown International Airport

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WATERTOWN — Watertown International Airport has announced that the National Weather Service, which maintains the weather station at the airport, has been making repairs to its Automated Surface Observing Systems weather reporting system. This resulted in the system going out of service Monday evening.

The necessary repairs will be completed late Thursday, when the system is expected to be back online

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New York airports in line for $937M under infrastructure bill

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Airports across New York state are set to receive a combined $937 million in federal funding under the infrastructure bill that is being finalized in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday said.

The money is part of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal comes on top of $142 million for electric vehicle charging stations, $1.9 billion for bridge repairs and $11.5 billion in additional reauthorizations.

“The bipartisan infrastructure deal will be a building and jobs boon for critical New York needs from Plattsburgh to Jamestown, and everywhere in between,” Schumer said. “Whether it’s critical bridge or highway repairs, safety improvements at our airports or for water systems, this deal represents massive investments that will rebuild and revive the Empire State’s infrastructure. From clean drinking water to upgraded sewer to repairing bridges and highways, there is more work to be done, but billions are on the way to move on it and create good jobs while advancing critical projects.”

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