Westchester County Airport is once again open for larger aircraft with completion of the resurfacing of the main runway.
As for the reopening of the county itself, County Executive George Latimer said he was hopeful it would be soon.
Latimer serves as a member of the group that is coordinating getting ready for the reopening of business in the Mid-Hudson Region. As of May 20, the Mid-Hudson region had not yet met the state’s requirement to build a base of 30 contact tracers for each 100,000 residents but was expected to do so soon.
It also did not have the required 14-day decline in hospital deaths or have fewer than 5 deaths on a rolling three-day average. The Business Journal asked Latimer when he thought the region would be cleared to begin the reopening process.
“I think we’re very close on most things,” Latimer said. “We don’t benefit in Westchester County if New York City is closed down and we’re open. We have so many people in this county, 200,000 or so, that commute every day into the city. We want to know that we can responsibly open the whole state and so each region comes in sequence. Hopefully we’re next up.”
The rehabilitation project for Runway 16/34 originally was scheduled to be done overnight during a three-month period. Because of the decline in air traffic during the COVID-19 outbreak, it was decided that the project could be accomplished on a full-time basis over a three week period instead.
The airport was completely closed for a week beginning on April 27. Then, it was reopened and aircraft were allowed to take off and land on the shorter runway, 11/29. The runway numbers refer to the compass direction it faces. Runway 34, for example, is on a compass heading of 340 degrees, close to north.
Runway 16/34 is 6,549 feet long and 150 feet wide. The original estimated cost of the resurfacing and new lighting and other enhancements was $21.7 million. It was planned for the federal government to put about $11.7 million into the project with the county floating bonds for the rest. Then, it was announced last May that the federal government was putting $4 million into the project. Last July, it was announced that the federal government would put an additional $14.8 million into the project.
The latest indication is that the federal government’s share will be about $19 million with the balance coming from the state and county.
Additional work remains to be done, such as grooving the asphalt to create pathways for rain to run off the surface and prevent the accumulation of standing water during heavy rains, which can be a hazard for aircraft. The work can be safely accomplished on a schedule that doesn’t conflict with the runway’s use by aircraft.
Latimer examined the work that was being completed, stood at the approach end of Runway 34 on the afternoon of May 20, and said, “We are here to celebrate the completion of a major capital project that we were able to do a lot sooner and a little bit less expensive than was originally planned.” Standing at the appropriate social distance was Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins.
Hugh Greechan, the commissioner of the county’s Department of Public Works & Transportation explained, “By completing the repaving during the airport’s closure, the need for the installation and removal of temporary runway pavement during normal airport operations has been eliminated.”
Latimer said that the runway was due for repaving after 20 years. He noted that repaving a runway at an airport is more complicated than repaving a neighborhood street because the runway must be capable of carrying the heavy weight of airplanes, withstand stresses of landings and takeoffs and remain free of hazards such as potholes.
“The work had originally been scheduled to take place later this year, in the fall, and the completion date originally was scheduled for October,” Latimer said. “So, this may be one of those historic moments: there’s actually a government construction project that actually finished sooner than was planned. You may live a long time before you see another one of those.”
Latimer indicated that although scheduled airline service into and out of Westchester virtually evaporated as the virus outbreak took hold, it will come back.
“We’re in contact with the various commercial airlines. We’re trying to understand what their strategies are,” Latimer said. “We’re certainly trying to give them a sense that this market has a certain market demand and the market demand will come back here probably faster than in other places.“
Delta recently announced that it was pulling out of the county airport at least for now. JetBlue’s website only shows the soonest flights between Westchester and Florida would be in July. American Airlines says that its station at the airport’s terminal building is “closed due to flight suspension.”
Airport Manager Peter Scherrer said that the airlines do want to come back to the airport.
“They made it very clear. They want to come back and they want to supply the service to residents. This is a good market for them and they know how important it is. Air travel is important to this community,” Scherrer said.
In the past, about 20% of the airport’s operations have been by the airlines with the balance being general aviation.