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Westchester Airport master plan taking off

In a briefing on May 4, Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced details of the plan to collect public input and restart the process to develop an updated master plan for the Westchester County Airport. The Business Journal reported on April 6 that the county would be moving forward with the project, in part to fulfill FAA requirements for airports receiving federal funding to have an updated master plan.

The last full master plan for the airport was completed in 1989. In February 2020, Latimer started to take action for a master plan supplement but the Covid-19 pandemic forced a halt.

From left: Joan McDonald; George Latime; Ken Jenkins. Previous Airport Master Plan on table.
From left: Joan McDonald; George Latimer; Ken Jenkins. Previous Airport Master Plan on table.

“Our challenge at the airport is pretty straightforward,” Latimer said during a briefing at the County Office Building in White Plains. “We have a unique transportation hub which is not possessed by many other county governments … hardly any others in our region and certainly across the nation. It represents a transportation hub of value to the business community in both business retention and business attraction to have an airport of the size and scope that the Westchester Airport is. At the same time, it is meant to be a suburban airport not an urban airport and the criticism and concern for many many years of people who live in and around the area is they don’t want to see a LaGuardia North and we too do not want to see a LaGuardia North.”

Latimer said his administration is committed to completing a thorough evaluation of airport operations and their impacts using a robust community engagement program.

“Whether you use the airport to fly with your family to Florida, to pick up your parents who are visiting for the winter, or you use the airport for business travel, we need to hear from you,” Latimer said. He called on residents, the business community, environmental groups, community organizations and others to participate in the master plan process. He said people from Connecticut are welcome to participate and disclosed that county officials would be meeting with officials from Greenwich to discuss the airport.

The Master Plan Supplement Community Engagement Program has been given the name “On the Horizon.” It kicks off May 24 with a 6 p.m. town hall meeting at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in White Plains. On June 2 at 6 p.m., there’s a second town hall at Manhattanville College in Purchase. A third scheduled town hall is set for June 9 at 6 p.m. at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.

Latimer said additional meetings will be scheduled including at least one to be held virtually.

The FAA, in an Advisory Circular outlining what it expects to be included in an Airport Master Plan, says there needs to be a program of public involvement. It calls for an examination of existing conditions as well as forecasts of aviation activity along with analysis of facility requirements. It wants to see airport layout plans as well as a financial feasibility analysis and facilities implementation plans. The FAA also calls for studies of various alternatives regarding airport development. It provides various sets of documentation guidelines from which planners can select the items that are relevant to their particular airport.

County Director of Operations Joan McDonald, who previously served as commissioner at the New York State Department of Transportation and as Connecticut’s economic development commissioner, said that before they get into the technical aspects of the master plan they want to get public input.

“We are going to get the public input to get a sense of what the public in Westchester County wants this airport to be,” McDonald said.

Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins said of the airport, “It is an economic driver for the County of Westchester; it’s also a driver for all of the travel that Westchester residents expect to be able to do.”

Latimer recalled that during the 1960s,’70s and ’80s the airport was an element that helped attract businesses to Westchester County. He said that companies appreciated then, and still do now, having the ability for their executives to access company-owned aircraft or private charters instead of having to conform their travel to airline schedules. Latimer pointed out that general aviation flights at Westchester operate from Fixed Base Operators located separately from the commercial passenger terminal at the airport.

Latimer said that the start of airline services between Westchester and cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco by Breeze Airways does not represent airport expansion since they’re working within existing limitations on the number of passengers coming through the terminal. He said that the interest by Breeze in providing new service shows there is “a strength and demand at Westchester Airport so we have to manage that demand.”

“This airport employs 1,485 full-time employees. There is $735 million in economic activities,” Latimer said. “We know that people have strong feelings about the airport on both sides. This asset represents something that affects one million people, all of the people of Westchester County. Everybody may not use it but some people work there and some people may fly out of there for personal reasons, some people may work for corporations that use the airport, as well as those people who live around the airport. We need to hear all the voices.”

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