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Ithaca Airport Obtains Grant to Add Air Route to Washington D.C.

In September, Ithaca Tompkins International Airport (ITH) received a $750,000 grant from the Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP) to expand air routes to Washington, D.C.

The SCASDP is a grant program that awards 20 grants to smaller communities from 16 states across the U.S. to help them address issues regarding air transportation. Communities that are selected have pre-existing partnerships that make air travel more accessible, provide a plan that outlines how they plan on using grant funds on a specific timeline,and have a letter of support from an air carrier. 

Because ITH is a smaller airport and is the only airport closest to Ithaca College and Cornell University, tickets usually tend to be limited and expensive. Chris Stephany, marketing and air service development administrator at the ITH, said the grant is earmarked by the Department of Transportation for a route to D.C., but could also be to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, or Dallas, Texas, since those routes were available before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I believe it is a very beneficial route for all the residents here in Tompkins County,” Stephany said. “We’re very optimistic that the expansion will be happening this coming year … and the route will be open.”

Stephany and Roxan Noble, airport director, said ITH — much like the entire airport industry — struggled to rebound its workflow post-COVID-19. Noble said it is going to take at least until 2024 to expand routes, and it also depends on issues that airlines face, like the shortage of flight staff and pilots. In November 2022, ITH also announced that it would be discontinuing its services to Detroit. Noble said there are currently only two daily flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport available from the ITH. Noble said Delta and United Airlines are the only two airlines that offer flights from ITH. 

“We have people we want that want to fly,” Noble said. “We’ve got great relationships with those two current carriers, and we are working on building back to where we were before COVID.” 

Stephany said that with the expansion of routes, cost reduction is expected and this makes air travel more accessible overall. 

“We do believe that more flights equals cheaper prices,” Stephany said. “The more flights are out of here, the more seats there are, so we are hoping that this is one of the benefits of adding three or four more flights to the route.”

First-year student Sage Zetah-Cornelius is from Minnesota and said she flew out of ITH to visit home. Cornelius said she paid about $600 for flight tickets and was not happy about the pricing from ITH. 

“My experience with the Ithaca Tompkins Airport was pleasant and smooth,” Zetah-Cornelius said. “The only thing I would change was the organization of the security and the fact that they overbooked the flight and almost denied me a seat. Also, the pricing was definitely not the best. It was very expensive, around $600, and I will be flying out of other airports from now on.” 

Sophomore Chike Nezianya said that flying home to D.C. usually turns out to be fairly expensive for him since there is no direct flight availability of the ITH. Nezianya said he usually flies out of Syracuse, New York, or New York City. 

“I would say it is normally in the neighborhood of $500 for a plane ticket and a bus ride,” Nezianya said. “It always makes more sense to go somewhere I can get direct flight from, [so] if they are expanding their flight routes to D.C., I would definitely consider flying from Ithaca.”

Noble said ITH has yet to decide which airline they are hoping to provide the routes through.

“We don’t have a definitive airline currently that we are going to be doing this flight with, but we’re looking to offer it really soon,” Noble said. “The folks from Ithaca College as well as Cornell really want to get back to the D.C. area, so we do have a great interest within the community to get back there.”

Melissa Marchese, a member of the Air Service Board of ITH, is also the executive director of marketing strategy at Ithaca College. The Air Service Board is a body formed by the Tompkins County Area Development and the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce to focus on engaging with different stakeholders. 

Marchese said the college provides support to the airport and recognizes the importance of helping the community. Marchese said flights to D.C. can potentially ease the commute for the college’s admissions officers who are not based in Ithaca or nearby. 

“We see the importance of a vibrant community and having the environment where the airport serves different locations,” Marchese said. “We have an admissions counselor based in [D.C.], just like we do in Boston or New York, so we do see the great potential there. I think it’s wonderful for us to be able to say we have flights to New York and we would have flights to D.C.”

Source: The Ithacan