Local Happenings: County Must Carefully Consider Airport’s Future

Dutchess County Airport (DCA) is an asset and a key transportation resource with considerable economic benefit to Dutchess County.  While the airport has operated at a deficit for many years, there are very positive signs that it has turned the corner.

Last month, the County Legislature voted on a resolution 2014202 authorizing the County to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to hire an outside vendor to manage the airport. As a 3-year member of the Airport Advisory Committee, whose purpose is to analyze and evaluate the future use and development of the DCA to assist the County Legislature in its decision-making process, I am concerned that the County is rushing this process without input from both the Committee and those citizens who live near the airport.

A feasibility study conducted in 2013 did not include the increase in revenues from gas sales at the airport. And the financial numbers used in the study were not up to date.  Allowing a private Fixed Base Operator (FBO) to operate our airport could have very negative effects on its operation.  Using other nearby airports as examples, anytime a monopoly exists, the users are not well served. Prices rise and service falls.

Selling the airport is not a viable option.  According to the 1947 deed signed with U.S. War Assets Administrator, selling the airport outright requires a vote by Congress permitting us to do so.  It would require us to pay back millions in FAA grant money since Airport Improvement Program funds require an airport to remain so for 20 years from receipt.

It is important to remember that many other modes of transportation used in Dutchess County require subsidies; rail, roads and buses to name a few.  What is important to note is the airport’s trend for self-sustainability in the short term. Fuel loads have increased because of competitive pricing. Hangar space should be expanded and can be done with private investment, but only with the addition of municipal water to the field. An investment in the water system would lead to an increase in economic activity more quickly than any other single issue and has already been approved by the state through a consolidation funding application.

I am not convinced that bringing in an FBO will significantly improve the financial status of the airport nor do I believe that privatization is the proper response, especially when the County has not proven that outsourcing equates to improved financial outcomes hence the Stadium and the Loop Transit System.  Additionally, outsourcing will make it more difficult for residents to obtain timely resolutions to issues that arise.

The feasibility report is a wonderful tool to add to the Airport Master Plan, the Airport Business Plan and the DPW Ten-Year Special Report.  We must not solely rely on the feasibility study which is why, moving forward, I ask the legislature to become fully informed on the consequences of outsourcing the airport and consider hiring an independent aviation attorney as a checks and balance to the executive branch similar to when we go over our yearly budget reviews.

 

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