Guv unveils airport funding competition

Maybe not in the running: Residents have protested air traffic at East Hampton Airport.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unleashed his favorite funding scheme – the “competitive process” – on New York State’s airports.

The governor’s office announced this week that at least $7 million in funding is available for airport improvement projects around the state, to be made available through the governor’s Aviation Capital Grants Program on a best-get-funded basis, with special attention paid to proposals that not only improve safety but support economic development.

The state’s transport department actually put out a request for proposals for airport-improvement projects Sept. 21, although Cuomo’s office didn’t announce the competition publicly until this week.

While $7 million is not a lot of money to be spread across multiple projects, the goal of the competition is to ensure that New York’s airports “remain accessible and convenient for travelers and remain key economic drivers for years to come,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Awarded grants – which will leverage additional federal, state and local funding, the governor noted – will focus on infrastructure improvements including work on terminals and hangars. They will also “address safety conditions and provide income-generating opportunities,” he said.

The competition is open to public-use airports that are part of the so-called State Airport System Plan, a comprehensive foundation for the strategic planning and future development of the state’s roughly 140 non-military airports.

Nine Nassau-Suffolk airports make the list: Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, Republic Airport in Farmingdale, Brookhaven Airport in Shirley, Lufker and Spadaro airports in East Moriches, Sands Point Seaplane Base in Port Washington, East Hampton Airport, Montauk Airport and Southampton Heliport.

One aerodrome not likely to see any of the $7 million is LaGuardia, which is already ticketed to receive billions of state and federal dollars for a massive modernization project. Vice President Joe Biden joined Cuomo in July to announce a “transformative revision” of the East Elmhurst international airport, including a $4 billion terminal-reconstruction project slated to break ground in 2016.

Bottom line: With a gaggle of heavy-hitting investors and the Federal Aviation Administration already on board, LaGuardia doesn’t need any of Cuomo’s $7 million.

Less clear is whether MacArthur will be looking to land any of the state’s airport-improvement funds. The Town of Islip-owned airport – designated an Official Metro Airport by the FAA in 2011, grouping it with LaGuardia, JFK and Newark Liberty International Airport in travel and information searches – received $4.75 million from the FAA in 2012 to effect runway-safety improvements, the latest in a long line of small state and federal stipends to improve safety and passenger comfort there.

Islip officials have already thrown their hat into the funding ring this year, seeking Albany’s help through the 2015 Regional Economic Development Council competition on a project that would renovate an existing building on the LIMA grounds to host a federal inspection station – a key step toward bringing international flights to central Long Island.

When all is said and done, there may actually be more than $7 million in play through the latest Cuomo contest. According to the New York DOT, “a minimum of $7 million” is included in the state’s 2015 general fund for such projects – suggesting the contest spoils could climb higher.

Applications for the airport-improvement competition must be filed by Nov. 3, according to the DOT.