This detailed story of the Finger Lakes Regional Airport and the FLAPS flying club was written by Dave Haimes. Dave has been involved with a lot of good things that have happened at the airport over the years.
Our thanks to Dave for taking the time to provide us with such great detailed information on the history of both the airport and the Flaps Flying Club.
The Finger Lakes Regional Airport was formally known as the Seneca Falls Airport and that airport began operation in the 1940's, I am told. For the first 10 years or so it was an unpaved field. Sometime in the 1950's the airport runway was paved and was privately owned by a variety of people.
I moved to Seneca Falls from Baltimore in December 1982. I had been flying for about seven years at the time and I remember driving out to the airport only to find that there were no rental aircraft available. I met some of the aircraft owners and that's when I got involved in the airport. At that time, there was a mechanic who rebuilt wrecked aircraft in the large hangar next to the current terminal building. There was an assortment of dilapidated metal T-hangars that were located just south of the current maintenance hangar. The place was a mess with several aircraft lying about in pieces outside, a filthy office that was attached to the main hangar (that office has since been torn down and there is now a concrete pad there), a bathroom that had a toilet that didn't flush all the time and a sink with no hot water. The main hangar had poor lighting, the ceiling was falling down in places and it had no heat.
The aircraft owners in 1983 were aware that the current owner of the airport, Mr. Charles Peterson, wanted to sell the airport and move to Florida. His asking price was beyond what seemed reasonable and in order to "Save the Airport", the aircraft owners banded together and formed Seneca Aviation, Inc. They held an open house at the airport the summer of 1983 and had memberships available for people of a like mind who wanted to save the airport. I joined SAI at that time. SAI had nothing for the non aircraft owner, there was no aircraft to rent, but it seemed important to keep the airport open and avoid seeing it sold off for houses or any other non-aviation related use. From 1983 to 1986, SAI leased the airport from Mr. Peterson for $800 per month and became the operator of the airport. SAI collected the tie-down payments and managed to keep fuel available on the airport. (At that time, the fuel tanks were buried and we had both 100 LL and Auto Fuel.) There was no aircraft maintenance on the airport during this time.
In 1986, Seneca County purchased the airport from Mr. Peterson with the aid of funds provided by the FAA, the NYS Dept of Transportation and some other monies from the County. SAI continued to operate the airport for the County (and did so profitably), until replaced by Dove Aviation of Connecticut in November 1990. Dove Aviation ended its relationship in August 1992 at which time the County undertook full operation.
The first SAI Fly-In Breakfast was in 1985. We held them for 23 years. The dates changed around some and for several years we held two breakfasts' yearly, but the date eventually become the Sunday before the Monday Memorial Day holiday. Our last breakfast was in 2008, with barely enough member help to pull it off. This is something that proved popular with the local people and got folks out to the airport that normally would have no reason to be there. It is something that I would like to see continue, but only when we have enough help to do a good job. We did manage to raise enough money over the years to make significant improvements to 46T. The interior was re-done twice and the avionics were improved to what we have today.
In 1988, SAI took some of its profits from the operation of the airport and purchased N2346T from the Palmyra Flying Club. (The Palmyra FC is no longer in operation and the grass airport in Palmyra is long closed.) Finally, the non-owner members of SAI had an airplane to fly. N2346T was not a pretty airplane back then. It had its original 1971-faded white paint with faded gold and blue stripes. The interior was ragged, the avionics were ancient and on their last legs. Over time, the interior was replaced, as were the radios and navigation equipment. In 1997, 46T landed short of a grass runway in Cayuga County. The CFII and his instrument student on board were not injured. They walked away from the accident without a scratch, but the airplane did suffer some minor front-end damage. It would be necessary to disassemble the aircraft for transport to a facility able to repair it. It seemed like a good time to fix more than what was broken in the accident.
The airplane was trucked to the paint building at Finger Lakes Tractor in Waterloo where the members of SAI stripped every bit of old paint off of the aircraft. 46T was then trucked to the Corning-Painted Post airport where Joe Costa and his crew re-assembled the aircraft, fixed the damage caused by the accident and then the aircraft was transported back to Waterloo and painted at JB Collision in the color scheme you see today. It took a real effort from the members of SAI at that time to do the work on 46T and I recall that it made us a very tight knit group. We all worked toward the common goal of making 46T better than it was before the accident.
When 46T was purchased, the hourly cost for flying was $35 and the instructor cost was, as I recall, $10 per hour. Sounds cheap, but remember, it was 1988. (When I learned to fly in 1975 in San Antonio, the aircraft cost $14 per hour and the instructor was $6 per hour. The "Big Iron", a Mooney Executive with retractable gear and a constant speed prop was $24 per hour. Sounds cheap, but I only earned about $5000 per year as a medic in the USAF.)
In the early1990's the airport looked much different than it does today. The new terminal did not exist, the FLAPS hangar was not there, there were times when no fuel was available and mechanic services were interrupted at times. A typical flight in 46T had to include a stop in Weedsport, Ithaca or Penn Yan to purchase fuel. When you returned to 0G7, you tied the aircraft down outside. If it was winter, you had to put wing covers and elevator covers on in addition to a cabin cover. Not easy to do when alone and fighting the wind.
In 1993, the decision was made to build a hangar for the SAI aircraft. Of course, SAI did not have the money to build, so a loan was arranged with several of the SAI members and other non-member pilots and the hangar was built. Each person who loaned money for the hangar was paid back on time and one member was paid back, in part, by allowing him to keep his airplane in the hangar after it was completed. 46T continued to live outdoors. SAI needed the income from hangar renters to pay back the loans. It was several years before we began to keep 46T in our own hangar!
Also during this time, there was disagreement between users of the airport on just what the future should be. One group wanted things to remain the same, that is to say, they wanted to have the use of the airport for little or no cash outlay. The other group realized that the airport was stagnant, in disrepair and not a very inviting place to be. Certainly, it did not inspire a positive first impression of Seneca County or the Finger Lakes for anyone flying in to the airport. The two sides began a membership campaign to bolster support for their particular school of thought. The SAI membership grew to about 75 people, most of them non-pilots and urged to join in order to tip the scales in favor of one side or the other. The whole thing came down to a vote and the vote was to support the County and seek airport improvements to make the airport a better place. Those who did not want to see any change at the airport moved their airplanes over to the privately owned Waterloo Airport where they could do whatever they wanted without interference from the County. Of course, they gave up an all weather airport for a grass field that was unusable when wet or snowy and the infrastructure of that airport was worse than 0G7. This was an ugly time at the airport and an uncomfortable time to be in a leadership position at SAI. When this group of disgruntled people left 0G7, the atmosphere at the airport improved. Now the pilots who stayed were willing to work together to see 0G7 get better.
In 1998, the County built the new terminal building, the old T-hangars were torn down, the old trailer that used to sit just west of the terminal was removed and, in general, the airport was spiffed up. Runway 18-36 was lengthened and made wider and renamed RW 01-19. A full-length parallel taxiway was built, a new fuel farm, new ramp space, new hangars and a new equipment building. The exterior and interior of the old main hangar was repaired and made to blend in with the rest of the hangars on the airport.
In 1994, SAI began to think about becoming a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of NY State. The reasoning behind this is that our main function was to train new pilots and encourage aviation safety. Finger Lakes Area Pilots, Inc., (FLAPS), was formed on April 8, 2003. The corporation known as SAI was dissolved and officially ceased to exist on June 21, 2007.
Here we are at the end of 2009. Our membership is, perhaps, smaller than in past years, but we do have a dedicated core that volunteers their time to keep FLAPS going. The cost of flying is now $80 per hour. The instructor charges $25 per hour for his time and expertise. Flying has never been and will never be an inexpensive activity, but we are members of an exclusive club. A club of PILOTS.