Build it and they will come might make for a good baseball movie and fantasy story telling, but it won’t magically make the Binghamton Regional Airport into a field of dreams. The departure of IBM and with it, all of the ancillary businesses it supported left the Binghamton region wanting for business travelers making regular trips during the week. Couple that with technology providing video-conferencing and real-time document sharing and costly routine business travel became largely unnecessary.
Our region, like many smaller markets throughout the US, was wooed into over-building our airports because ample federal funding had always been available to do so. The Airport Improvement Program was to airports what the Interstate Highway system was to roadways in the later half of the 20th century. Through that program, billions of dollars are spent every year, averaging about $5.5 million per airport. And of course the allure was and is, free money, and if you build it they might come, and my personal favorite, if we don’t take it some other region will and we’ll be the worse for it. Because these federal handouts were so indiscriminate, regions like Binghamton, that were shrinking markets, kept on spending thinking; what’s the downside of taking more and more federal dollars?
Fast-forward to today and this is the reality.
Not counting Binghamton, there are four commercial passenger airports within a one-hour drive, Elmira, Ithaca, Syracuse and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Two offer international travel. Binghamton is not one of them. Three of the airports are directly adjacent to interstate highways. The Binghamton airport is 8 miles up a two-lane road. Drawing a 25-mile radius around each of the five airports, Binghamton has the smallest population from which to draw. Syracuse has six carriers with 53 daily flights. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has four carriers offering 18 daily flights. Ithaca and Elmira both have three carriers and offer eight daily flights. Binghamton has a single carrier offering three fights a day, all to Detroit.
The same brilliant minds thinking that bringing water and sewer lines up airport road would increase airport use, now are contemplating spending thousands of dollars for a consultant to tell us what the airlines have already studied and concluded; the Binghamton market for commercial air service is insufficient to support profitability.
Our airport ought to lower its gate fees, landing fees, and all fees imposed on airlines, to be just a bit less than the lowest cost competitor airport within this group. Fuel costs should also be lowered to beat all of those other airports as well. Helping carriers to lower their costs just might encourage them to offer more services here.
It is painfully hard to ignore the irony of the reality that the only way to fly out of Binghamton, a shrinking rust-belt region trying desperately to become a college town, is to end up in another failing region of economic despair, Detroit.