Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Commissioner, Old Vision

A week on the job, and the OD is already asking our new Oneida County Airport Commissioner, W. Vernon Gray III, for his "vision:"
I would have the Griffiss International Airport become the regional center for all types of aircraft maintenance, repair and overall services, and an educational center for aeronautical education and job skills training ...
Sounds like doing more of what we've been doing, doesn't it?
I recently discussed with representatives of the U.S. Transportation Security Agency about creating a TSA-sponsored security training program at the airport. I would like for this airport to be an aeronautical education center.
Hmm . . . Aren't we doing the "homeland security" thing at the OLD Oneida County Airport?
Could the airport ever become a commercial airport with commercial airlines?
No. That's totally unrealistic at this point in time.
Same old, same old, same old . . .

Mr. Gray can be forgiven for his vision being exactly what we've already had . . . He's new to the job and needs to please his bosses. . . .

But, you have to wonder, just exactly whose vision have the taxpayers been paying to implement all these years? Who has been calling the shots? Certainly not the Board of Legislators . . . they are mainly rubber stamps.

This "vision" for the airport is troubling.

First of all, becoming a "regional aircraft maintenance center" with a supportive "aircraft education center" makes it sound like the Oneida County taxpayers have become business partners with Empire Aero . . . but without the benefits of partnership such as sharing the profits and setting corporate policy. It is doubtful that the county is trying to attract other aircraft maintenance companies to Griffiss. This fits the pattern of county officials becoming too close to those they deal with to be able to make objective decisions.

Second, dismissing the potential for commercial service permanently places Utica-Rome at a disadvantage when compared to smaller markets such as Elmira-Corning and Ithaca that have such service. While it may be "unrealistic" now because we've stupidly destroyed our old airport with its passenger terminal and can't afford to build a new one, to dismiss the possibility in light of comparative population statistics is simply wrong.

Third, visioning more of the same overlooks Griffiss' true 'diamond-in-the-rough' potential as a regional intermodal cargo port. Use your Mid-York library card and search the Syracuse papers in NewsBank under "Griffiss cargo" and "Hancock cargo" and see what you pull up. Oneida County leaders need to think beyond the county when dealing with something as big as Griffiss.

People in Syracuse see Griffiss' potential for cargo . . . and see it as helping
them . . . Why can't we?

If you are going to be successful in business, you have to look for a niche and fill it! Oneida County should not overlook the obvious.


clipper said...

I don't ever see passenger service coming to Griffiss. Not unless a sinkhole opens up and swallows Hancock Field. The only passenger service I would see feasible in the Utica/Rome area would be a commuter service to NY or possibly Boston.

I can't believe the money being spent at the new airport at Griffiss. A new "terminal" building just seems like a waste of money.

We now have TWO airports to heat and maintain. The other terminal building still has to be heated, and maintained and now is sitting wasted with minimal use by an entity that could use ANY building, not necessarily an airport passenger terminal.

It is the typical fantasy and fallacy by local pols. Why not find a tenant that would want to bring cargo service or something like it to Griffiss and THEN build a terminal to acomodate them? Like maybe "Airfield space available, will build terminal to suit tenant". Nope, we have to get the cart before the horse, and build a terminal building, and then when we find later that it doesn't fit the needs of those that may fly into Griffiss, it will be "remodeled" to suit someone's needs.

Just some more spending to suit those that are friends of the aristocracy that is our county government and local, state, and federal represntatives. Not much benefit to the average taxpayer.

I think when we closed the terminal in Oriskany, we closed the book on any chance of bringing passenger service back to the Mohawk Valley. The old airport was just the right size, and had all the amenities such as a restaurant and rental car counters, baggage handling capability, and a Hotel nearby.

Now we will sink millions into duplicating that at Griffiss, and may never see a damn thing for our money.

Anonymous said...

What is the problem with developing Griffis into a regional aircraft maintenance center? Do you have a problem with the 450 jobs created so far? All which pay $18 and up for graduates of the MVCC school. There is no competing regional maintenace center around. Makes sense to me.

Passenger service? You are kidding me, right? SYR is only 45 minutes west and EXISTS. Why on earth would you want to go into competition with an existing airport.

The tolls on the Thruway kill any chance of the airport becoming a cargo center and we have no north/south interstate here. Do you know how much the t-way tolls are for an 18 wheeler heading into NYC from Utica? Stewart Airport has a far better chance in this niche. Not to mention there is no available hanger space left at Griff due to the expansion of Empire. Hard to believe but true.

Sorry, but sometimes I think you write negative articles just to be negative.

By the way, you didn't post my comments the last time I wrote and I guess I should expect the same treatment this time - because I disagree with you.

Strikeslip said...

Anon - I don't have a problem with posting comments that disagree with me. Other points of view are welcome. Comments which are off topic, involve name calling or bad language, or which are potentially libelous, get rejected. I'm not here to hurt anyone, and won't allow my blog to be used for that purpose. I want to get people to think. Maybe I did not receive your prior post.

I'm not kidding about passenger service. If Elmira-Corning (metro population of 198000) can support it (being about the same distance from Binghamton as Utica is from SYR), why cannot we (metro population 298,000)? Not having scheduled air service cannot be helpful in attracting new businesses. It might not be such an issue for Rome (32 miles from Syr), but for Herkimer County it would be.

Regional aircraft maintenance center -- that's fine -- but will it ever eat up the $2 million/year that this airport is costing us? That's $1.5 million/year more than the old airport which exactly met our needs (and had a passenger terminal). For 450 jobs, that's about a $3,333/job/year... and that does not include the more direct subsidies.

I agree with you that the TWY tolls are a drag on our potential -- they have to go, putting us at a disadvantage to other areas with free interstates. But where are our local officials on that issue? Haven't heard a peep outta them on getting rid of the tolls -- but some Buffalo legislators got the tolls removed from the Niagara Extension. And Massachusetts took their tolls off the Masspike west of 128. Our leadership is lazy.

I don't write negative articles to be negative. I write negative articles because the performance of our officials is unacceptable. (I also write positive things, too, but you seem not to have noticed).

clipper said...

There is also a large stretch of Thruway that is toll free around Albany and Schenectady, allowing truck traffic to transition from I88 to the Mass turnpike with minimal tolls, and to serve the capital district with NO tolls.What a godsend it would be to commerce if tolls were lifted from Syracuse to Utica, allowing trucks to travel toll free from I81 into the Utica/Rome area. Seeing as how area leaders screwed up in not lobbying hard enough for I88 to come to Utica instead of Schenectady, we would sure benefit from a lobby for a direct and free interstate travel corridor to the Utica/Rome area.

As far as the fairness of your blog Strike, it is the best and most fair blog in the area. Nobody I know has a problem with your discretion or fairness in posting our comments. It's not TOPIX, and if one wants to post something libelous or in bad taste, that is where they need to take it.

clipper said...

PS: I didn't see anyone objecting to the progress Empire is making at Griffiss or the 450 jobs. Where did that come from? I also see Stewart as a great cargo terminal for NY City, and that was the purpose of developing it as such.

Upstate and Central NY are not really figured into the equation of Stewart as a cargo hub.

Vernon Gray said...

Strikeslip wrote, "Sounds like doing more of what we've been doing, doesn't it?" No, it isn't. Empire Aero's present customer base is air carrier aircraft, not business/corporate and general aviation aircraft. I would like to expand the MRO services at Griffiss, with additional companies, to be comparable to that of the Savannah Jet Center, Savannah, GA, for example.

Strikeslip wrote, "Hmm . . . Aren't we doing the "homeland security" thing at the OLD Oneida County Airport?" No, that is the New York State Homeland Security, not the Federal that I addressed.

Strikeslip wrote, "Same old, same old, same old . . . Not, so. MVCC is presently only teaching an A&P Mechanic course. I would have them expand the scope of aeronatuical job skills being taught.

Strikeslip wrote, "Mr. Gray can be forgiven for his vision being exactly what we've already had . . . He's new to the job and needs to please his bosses. . . . That, too, is wrong. While the newspaper used the term "vision," my business plan concept, to expand upon and improve what we already have at the airport, is based upon a realistic evaluation. Furthermore, my "bosses" have not in any way influenced my opinions, and I have not given any thought to whether or not it pleased them.

Strikeslip wrote, "It is doubtful that the county is trying to attract other aircraft maintenance companies to Griffiss." You are wrong! "This fits the pattern of county officials becoming too close to those they deal with to be able to make objective decisions." Again, you are wrong, and the reason you are wrong is because you do not have any firsthand knowledge upon which to make an informed opinion. My objective working relationship with Empire Aero, Million Air, etc., is neither preferential or compromised.

Strikeslip wrote of my "dismissing the potential for commercial service," but my comment applied to only routine air passenger service, not air charter or cargo service.

Strikeslip wrote, "Oneida County leaders need to think beyond the county when dealing with something as big as Griffiss. . . If you are going to be successful in business, you have to look for a niche and fill it! Oneida County should not overlook the obvious." I entirely agree.

Now, is it too much to ask that you withhold your premature judgements regarding me until I have had the opportunity to make a good faith effort?

Strikeslip said...

Thank you, Mr. Gray. I appreciate your taking the time to write.

My judgment was not so much of you as what I've seen over the last several years from county officials. If you read my posts under the "airport" tag, you will understand why I am frustrated.

There never was any kind of plan for reusing the old airport, and it was essentially given away. If there is a "business plan" for making the new airport profitable, it is not evident. All I know is that my county taxes keep going up, the county population -- and jobs -- keep dropping, and the airport is becoming a bigger expense than ever.

I wish you well in your new job, and hope you can turn things around. The fact that you took the time to write and discuss -- unlike the others -- give me a reason to be encouraged.

Thank you.

Vernon Gray said...

Strikeslip: Actually, I read your "airport" posts in August before my Sept 15 job interview. Now, I understand your frustration.

I will post the proposed airport development plan, which I presented to the County in September, on the new airport web site at

The foremost fiscal goal is to make the airport financially self-sustaining. My first priority is to reduce the cost of operating expenses, especially utilities. EDGE and GLDC have previously taken the lead in developing the airport's revenue.

In the 2009 County budget the airport has actually become less, not more, expensive because of the privatization of the FBO. Still, the airport is operating at a deficit. I am seeking an economic impact analysis and study in order to authoritatively determine the airport's present economic benefit, so that the public will know what has been the return on their significant investment in the airport.

Thanks for your well wishes. I will do my best to "turn things around."

Unknown said...

Glad that you took the time to respond Vernon. I look forward to your plans for the airport.

From the Texan who was 'runner up' for the airport commissioner job!

Anonymous said...

I served with Vernon Gray in the Navy, and know firsthand his tenacity in getting things done. If he says he has a plan to improve this airport, I would bet the bank that it will be done.

An old OA shipmate :)