DoNorth

Taking Flight

(DoNorth/Kayla Breen)   The concrete runway at Plattsburgh International Airport stretches for nearly two miles, disappearing into the Adirondack peaks. For over half a century, everything from military bomber and tanker aircraft to commercial and jet airplanes have landed on this runway. The terminal was built on the former U.S. Air Force Base, utilizing aviation access, hanger storage and hundreds of acres of industrial land. The 2,000-acre airport began as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) heavy bomber base in the 1950s and was later reassigned in 1991 as an Air Refueling Wing. Hosting an Air Force meant big planes, and…

(DoNorth/Kayla Breen)

 

The concrete runway at Plattsburgh International Airport stretches for nearly two miles, disappearing into the Adirondack peaks. For over half a century, everything from military bomber and tanker aircraft to commercial and jet airplanes have landed on this runway.

The terminal was built on the former U.S. Air Force Base, utilizing aviation access, hanger storage and hundreds of acres of industrial land. The 2,000-acre airport began as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) heavy bomber base in the 1950s and was later reassigned in 1991 as an Air Refueling Wing.

Hosting an Air Force meant big planes, and big planes meant long runways. Plattsburgh Air Force Base (PAFB) includes extensive taxiways, which contain enough space to accommodate 747 wide wingspan aircraft, connecting the runway with terminals, hangars and other facilities.

In the late 1950s, the incorporation of an SAC Alert Area provided secure accommodation for nuclear-armed bombers and their crews. “The Alert Ramp was manned 365 days of the year,” Plattsburgh International Airport Manager Chris Kreig says. Those on alert were required to remain in the immediate vicinity of the aircraft during their tour of duty, which lasted anywhere from 24 to 168 hours.

PAFB was designed to support the largest aircraft in inventory. “We can land just about anything that flies now,” says Kreig as a testament to the decades-old establishment. The concrete runway fourteen inches thick can accommodate a fully-loaded B-52 bomber. “When it was stationed here in the 60s, it weighed the better part of 500,000 pounds loaded with fuel and bombs,” Kreig says. “The concrete needed to be that thick to support the weight.”

The U.S. Department of Defense closed PAFB in 1994. A year later, the base was turned over to the Plattsburgh Airbase Redevelopment Corporation. Revitalizing the former military establishment into a civilian airport wasn’t without its hardships. Nearly 5,000 families stationed at the base left the area along with many businesses.

About a decade later, local officials desired to move the former Clinton County Airport, which closed in 2003. Construction soon began and the Plattsburgh International Airport opened in June 2007.  In the first year of operation, the airport had 4,000 enplanements people who got on an airplane in Plattsburgh and flew somewhere else. Three airlines operate out of the single-terminal airport PenAir, Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines flying to Boston, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Myrtle Beach, Punta Gorda and Saint Petersburg.

Within two years of opening, the Plattsburgh International Airport maxed out its terminal. “By 2008, we had 45,000 enplanements,” says Kreig. “The original terminal was only built to accommodate 50,000. We exceeded that.” With the current terminal expansion, they will be able to accommodate 300,000 passengers throughout the year.

In order to meet the needs of the passenger traffic influx, the only option for the newly constructed terminal was to build bigger. The construction project began in October 2014 with a goal to quadruple the size of the existing terminal. The expansion includes increasing the ticketing area and baggage claim, making room for additional seating and concessions, incorporating escalators, free wifi and charging stations and increasing the size of the security checkpoint.

The success of the airport stems from its strategic location. Plattsburgh quickly established itself as “Montreal’s U.S. airport,” less than an hour drive from the city. “We’re looking to grow our international flights,” says Kreig. “We’re an international airport in name only.” Plattsburgh International Airport is looking to extend flights to the Caribbean, Dominican Republic and Mexico. The airport serves not only Montreal and upstate New York, but Quebec City, Albany, Eastern Ontario and New Hampshire.

Plattsburgh International Airport continues to change with the times, adapting to technological advances while leaving room for future growth.

“We never closed the airport terminal. We never stopped service,” says Kreig. “This entire terminal was basically torn apart and put back together. It’s a testament to the contractors and a testament to the tenants, TSA and the airlines. They all had to make accommodations. Everyone worked together and got it done.”

Issue 8: Winter/Spring 2017

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