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Airport Construction Project Nears End

Construction at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport is nearing completion after a year-long effort to transform the terminal into a modernized international airport. 

Mike Hall, director of the airport, said this is the first major renovation there in 25 years. The original terminal was not built to accommodate the security changes to air travel post-9/11.

“Our physical facility was really not up to speed for today’s travel needs, both from the comfort and security of passengers and convenience,” Hall said. 

Since the project launched in November 2018, Hall said construction has remained on schedule, and he expects there to be a ribbon-cutting celebration in mid-December. Upon completion, the total cost of the project will be approximately $35 million. Funding came from three areas — $14.2 million from New York State, $10 million from the federal government and $10 million from the airport and Tompkins County.

Graphic of the funding breakdown for the airport construction project. The total cost is $35 million.
(Nicole Pimental/Ithaca Week)

Renovations included a full reconstruction of the terminal building, new jet bridges, a new departure entrance and a new exit portal. The project is currently in its third and final phase of construction, which includes interior decorating and the construction of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility

With its new international designation, Hall said the airport will be Tompkins County’s connection to a larger global community. He said the goal in the first year of the renovated airport is to have 100 flights of international origin land directly in Ithaca and be cleared through Ithaca airport’s customs facility. 

Phase 3 of construction included a new Customs and Border Protection Facility. The facility will allow international flights to land at the airport instead of stopping first at a different airport to clear U.S. Customs.​ (Nicole Pimental/Ithaca Week)

“The destinations would be relatively global in nature with a concentration in Quebec and Ontario because that’s close,” he said. 

A large portion of those international flights would be private or chartered ones coming from Canada. Hall anticipates that the airport’s international designation will eventually lead to additional commercial flights to and from new destinations. 

He also hopes Tompkins County will learn and grow from global travelers, and the new terminal will help welcome them to the community. 

At the airport, we say, ‘we speak your language, we cook your food, we celebrate your music. You’re welcome here,’” Hall said. 

From Ithaca’s airport, travelers can reach over 750 destinations through one-stop connections in hubs or larger airports, and many of those flights are to and from international destinations. Approximately 22,000 international passengers travel through the airport each year, according to state data. 

But Julia Schmidt, an Ithaca College student from Norway, usually drives to New York City to fly home. Of the few times she has traveled through the Ithaca airport, she said her flights were delayed and processes like baggage check-in took a long time. 

When I was there last time, it was being renovated, so the cafe area was gone,” Schmidt said. “They were redoing where you send your luggage. The check-in area was all cut off.  I think I had to wait 45 minutes to even check-in.” 

Renovations of the terminal building have caused some setbacks to airport processes such as baggage check-in and claim. (Nicole Pimental/Ithaca Week)

Regardless, Schmidt said it would be beneficial if an international airport in Ithaca could offer flights to hubs in Europe like Amsterdam or London. She also said more frequent flights to larger cities like New York City or Newark, NJ would also be great.

Just getting from Ithaca to the city, which is what I usually do to go home, that in and of itself is like a six-hour process,” Schmidt said.  

Fernando Vargas Herrera, an IC student from Vienna, Austria, often travels through the Ithaca airport. Herrera said travel setbacks he’s experienced at the airport, including flight delays that have caused him to miss connections, are very stressful because he has no family in the United States. 

“Whenever I’m going to fly, the first thing I think in the morning is ‘please, God, make the airplane go fly on time,’” Herrera said. 

Herrera said he hopes the transformation of the airport will improve travelers’ experiences. 

“I really hope they transform this airport into something that works,” Herrera said. “I think that will be helpful for multiple people, especially international students.” 

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