By JOE LoTEMPLIO, Press-Republican May 3, 2019
PLATTSBURGH — The federal Customs and Immigration facility at Plattsburgh International Airport is nearly ready for business.
“Everything is ready to go. We are just waiting for them to staff it,” said Clinton County Legislator and Airport Committee Chair Robert Hall (D-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh).
The installation of the customs facility is part of an ongoing effort to increase services at the airport, which opened on the flight line of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 2007.
Once the customs station is operational, the airport will be able to receive international flights, a market the county has been hoping to crack.
“We need flights to the Caribbean and Europe, and that’s what we’ve been working on,” Hall said.
“We’ve been working hard on that, and I believe eventually we will get some.”
According to figures from the North Country Chamber of Commerce, the county’s marketing arm of the airport, a total 21,000 people fly in and out of Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airportand Plattsburgh International Airport combined, per day, to all destinations.
Also, said Airport Director Chris Kreig, who has been workingto recruit international flightswith Volaire Aviation, the county’s airline consultant, about 900 people fly in and out of Trudeau to and from Paris, France, each day.
Hall said it would be great to tap into that market.
“If we could get just 10 percent of that it would be fantastic,” he said.
Building the customs facility was not without challenges, Hall said, as the county had to meet the meticulous specifications of the federal government.
Chairs and faucet settings had to be replaced, and garbage removal even had a hiccup.
“Garbage from international flights can’t be disposed of with our regular garbage,” Hall said.
“It has to be treated separately so we had to make some adjustments for that. That’s something we never knew about.”
Some other changes had to be made, totaling about $70,000 in change orders for the project.
Most of the cost will be absorbed by grant money.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) said last week that to her knowledge, the customs facility should be ready for business in about two months.
“The county had to make an adjustment on it, and obviously we are working with the county on that, but this is good news when it finally gets done for the North Country,”she said.
“It’s pro tourism, it’s pro jobs.”
Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman, an ad hoc member of the county’s Airport Committee, said the county has been taking the right approach in seeking international flights.
“This will greatly add a long-awaited component that will hopefully continue to advance the trajectory of Plattsburgh International Airport,”he said.
FOR PRIVATE AIRCRAFT
In addition to the customs facility inside the airport, ageneral aviation customs facility for private aircraft outside the terminal on the flight line will also be ready to go soon.
That operation was paid for from part of the $38 million the county received from the state last year as part of the Upstate Airport Economic Development and Revitalization program.
County Deputy Administrator Rodney Brown explained that the general aviation facility will allow private airplanes from outside the United States to land at the airport.
“These will probably be mostly Canadian-based, smaller aircraft,”he said.
“They can land, fuel up, and pilots and any passengers can be cleared through customs.”
Customs staff assigned to the airport will work at the general aviation facility until they are needed at the site inside the airport, Brown said.
While there are no regular international flights at the airport, there are occasional flights that land there, mostly for sporting events in Lake Placid.
They are serviced by customs officers who are notified of an arriving flight and report to the airport as needed.
With the newly staffed customs facility for general aviation flights, private pilots will be able to come anytime.
“Some will fly down here from Montreal, have lunch, do a little shopping and then fly home,” Brown said.
The airport’s fixed-base operator, Eagle Aviation Services, has vehicles available for use for those who fly in on private aircraft.
ALTERNATIVE TO BURLINGTON
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas, who has been working with the county to attract more flights at the airport, said the general aviation customs site will have a positive impact.
“While the county and its consultant continue to pursue international passenger service, we are stepping up our messaging in Quebec for private and corporate plane owners headed to the U.S.,”he said.
“We’re telling them they will soon have an alternative to Burlington for clearing customs and, while they’re here, refueling and availing themselves of other services.”
Douglas said the chamber will be making a presentation to a major gathering of plane owners in Montreal in June.
“Customs presence also continues to be important to the region’s successful and continuing efforts to attract international events and sports competitions, such as the World University Games in 2023 (in Lake Placid),” he said.
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