Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport addresses decline in passengers

Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport is working to increase traffic, following a steep decline in passengers over the past two years. Earlier this month, the Tompkins County Legislature approved the contract for a consultant to advise airport administrators in boosting passenger volume.

Ewan Barr, a former senior-level employee with Continental Airlines, began working on this project immediately after the Legislature approved his one-year contract on February 8.

Airport Manager Bob Nicholas said he has spoken with Barr a number of times to discuss the ways in which Barr can help bring the passenger totals back up to their previous levels, and beyond.

Why the drop in traffic?

Nicholas said he suspects the drop in passengers, approximately 13% in the past year alone, stems from sequestration by the federal government, which put funding for the airport’s control tower at risk and caused some people to fear the airport would not be safe. Nicholas also said airlines have consolidated the number of flights they offer, which translates to less options for convenient flight times for travelers.

According to Nicholas, part of Barr’s job requirements are to speak to the airlines that fly out of the airport, and convince them to offer more flights.

“What we were talking to Ewan about…was to do some research locally and with the educational community, getting the kind of statistics that the airlines would be interested in,” Nicholas said.

Cancellations cause frustration

Becky Kabel, a senior at Ithaca College who has flown out of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport numerous times, said she is not surprised that the airport has seen its numbers dip because she has had several unsatisfactory experiences there.

“They overbook flights, they have unnecessary delays,” Kabel said. “They really have very poor logistics of bringing the planes in and out.”

Nicholas said he would like Barr to analyze the airport’s high rate of cancellations and delays compared to that of other airports in the area, such as Binghamton and Elmira.

“It’s the kind of information that is very time-consuming,” Nicholas said. “With all of the other things that are going on here, I don’t have time to get into that.”

Barr will work in conjunction with Boyd Group International, a well-known aviation consulting firm that collects local and national statistics, to conduct research and develop strategies for the airport.

But some flyers have their own suggestions for making the airport more desirable to passengers.

Higher fares are the price for convenience

Willa Erickson, a student from Arizona who often flies home via the local airport, said she likes the terminal itself but is often discouraged by higher ticket prices than those at larger airports in the vicinity.

“The tickets are always up to $100 more expensive than airports that are an hour away,” Erickson said.

Nicholas said the greater capacity of airports that are farther away allows them to reduce their prices. He said he thinks the nearby location of the airport for people who live in Tompkins County makes it worth the slightly higher fares.

“If you go to a convenience store, you pay higher prices than you would at Walmart,” Nicholas said. “It’s the same kind of economy.”

The fares may not go down, but Nicholas said he is confident the work Barr and Boyd Group are undertaking will help drive up airport traffic in the near future.

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