New authority hopes to improve operations at Syracuse airport

Oct 14, 2013

Correction: The authority planned to take over operations of the airport is a public benefit authority and not private.

Early next year control of day-to-day operations at Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport will transfer from a city department to a private public benefit authority, a move city and airport officials say will mean benefits for travelers.

The Syracuse Regional Airport Authority’s first order of business when it was enacted last year was to hire a private security contractor. The move is expected to save $2 million a year in police overtime.

If the airport can find other ways to cut costs and increase revenue, Aviation Commissioner Christina Callahan says that’ll be reflected in cheaper fares and more traveler choice.

"There’s a direct relation between the cost of doing business in Syracuse and our ability to attract additional service and new carriers," she says.

The airport must run as a revenue-neutral operation. In years when the airport spends more – during periods of extreme weather, for example – airlines have to chip in to help close funding gaps.

By the same token, any savings the airport achieves are passed onto the airlines.

"The competition between cities for air service is only becoming greater," says Kevin Schwab, who overseas the aviation arm of CenterState CEO, a regional economic development agency.

"Airlines are trimming capacity and have been over the last few years and they’re being much choosier about where they decide to launch new routes."

Schwab says even a $5 cut in ticket fees can be a decider for low-cost airlines looking to move into an airport.

"That’s the key thing that [airlines] look at. ‘How much is it going to cost me to put an airplane in Syracuse?’ So whatever we can do to lower costs and whatever we can do to increase revenue has a direct impact on the cost of doing business at the airport," says Callahan.

Right now the city’s aviation department reports to city hall. The Common Council is working on a long-term lease agreement that will transfer operations to the authority, but that’s been delayed.

Once the vote goes through, an 11-person board will take over control. Callahan says they’ll continue to look at innovative ways to cut costs and generate revenue.

"They understand that the airport is a business and they can decisions that are sometimes tough decision to make because they may not be popular, but they’re the right decision to make for the airport," she says.

She says that will help when she’s knocking on airline’s doors telling them, "we need service."