Airport needs more aggressive marketing effort

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Oneida County’s contract with Freeman Holdings of New York to run fixed-base operations at Griffiss International Airport might best be described as a bittersweet work in progress.

On one hand, County Executive Anthony Picente says the deal is saving taxpayers money. But critics, citing profits far lower than anticipated, believe the county is getting a raw deal.

Who’s right? Maybe it’s a little of both.

What’s really needed is more aggressive marketing of the airport. That needs to be a combined effort, with the county, Mohawk Valley EDGE and the airport commissioner working in partnership with Million Air — Freeman Holdings’ franchise name — to secure more business. Their success would benefit everyone.

In 2008, Oneida County and Freeman Holdings entered into a 10-year contract, under which Million Air runs all airport operations, ranging from services offered to pilots, passengers and planes to fueling and food service. The county reaps a portion of the profits, but those profits haven’t been what were expected.

For instance, the county gets eight cents for every gallon of fuel sold, but sales have fallen short of projections. Payments to the county in 2009 and 2010 were $44,791 and $62,491, respectively. And in 2011, the take was $71,024, county figures show. Million Air had projected the county would make $190,000 off the deal in 2009 and $205,000 in 2010.

Even so, Picente says, the county is ahead of the game, saving an estimated $500,000 annually in salaries, benefits and equipment the county has not had to purchase.

Nevertheless, this operation could be much better — and should be — by securing more business at the airport.

A pending lease with MidAir to occupy the other half of Building 100, which could result in an additional 125 jobs, is a good step. But there’s much more work to do. More business could be a bargaining chip for the county when the contract with Freeman comes up for renewal in six years.

Raising the profit margin would also be advantageous for Million Air, which currently pays no rent to the county for office space like it does at some facilities. In Victorville, Calif., for instance, Million Air operates an airport at the former George Air Force Base and pays between $6,000 and $7,000 a month in rent. But there, the company has been able to attract military planes, and the city garnered close to $800,000 last year from its 10-cent-per-gallon share of the million gallons of fuel sold there.

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