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Ithaca airport still recovering from pandemic losses

The Ithaca Tompkins International Airport.
Robert Henry
Tompkins County
The Ithaca Tompkins International Airport.

The Ithaca Tompkins International Airport had a significant decline in travelers because of the pandemic.

According to the FAA, there were 50 percent fewer travelers at the Ithaca airport in 2022, down from 109,000 in 2019 to 57,000. The 2023 numbers were not available as of this report.

American Airlines ceased its services with the airport in 2022 due to the national pilot shortage. The Ithaca airport went down to two routes and two airlines: United Airlines to Newark International Airport in New Jersey, and Delta Airlines to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

Airport officials developed a recovery strategy to increase its airline partners, flight routes, and passengers back to pre-pandemic numbers.

“We're just talking to multiple airlines, as well as our current airline partners,” said Airport Director Roxan Noble. “[We’re] working with them and seeing what opportunities are out there."

Noble did not specify airlines and routes when asked.

An informational town hall hosted by the airport on March 1 drew a crowd of 30 people, according to Noble. The effort was meant to encourage people to choose the Ithaca Tompkins International airport for their air travel.

The pandemic and decline in travelers created a financial loss for the airport. The airport went through its federal stimulus funding and required more financial assistance. Tompkins County officials approved $2.7 million dollars in its 2023 budget to cover airport operating costs through 2025.

“When we had done our budget last year realizing we've lost many flights since the pandemic and that our expenses, to be able to cover them and still keep our rates and charges competitive with our airlines, that we needed some help,” explained Noble.

It was the first time the airport requested financial assistance from the county.

“The county Legislature has been extremely supportive. They realize the importance of the airport to the community, to the educational institutions and they have provided funds for our operating budget,” Noble said.

The funds cover personnel services for the airport’s 15 employees who maintain airport grounds, facilities and security.

Noble said the airport’s comeback could be longer than initial estimates.

“It could be a couple of years before things are really fully back to something that, you know, we were hoping for. We didn't really think that the pandemic would have affected us this long, but it's still affecting many regional airports.”

The Ithaca airport director provided WSKG passenger data in email correspondence. According to Noble, there were 3,212 passengers in January 2023, 3,387 passengers in January 2022, 1,700 passengers in 2021 and 6,173 passengers in January 2020. The difference in the data included American Airlines.

The airport serves residents, business travelers and students attending Cornell University and Ithaca College.