ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca Tompkins International Airport has received a lifeline in the form of over a million dollars in federal funding, announced by New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand in a press release last week.

The funding was part of a total of $36.5 million secured for airports all around New York State as part of last month’s COVID-19 relief package, supplying money to help mitigate the losses that airports have experienced with a universal downturn in travel because of the coronavirus outbreak. Ithaca’s airport received $1,374,723 in the package, the 10th highest in the state and the second-highest among airports in the Finger Lakes region (separate, obviously, from the Southern Tier categorization it has received during the COVID-19 recovery).

The funding will be distributed by the Federal Aviation Administration under the Department of Transportation.

“As New Yorkers continue battling the COVID-19 crisis, we cannot leave airports behind,” said Gillibrand in the announcement. “Airports, travel and tourism will be a critical part of our economic recovery, and these federal dollars will help airports across Upstate New York continue providing high-quality and safe transit when travel takes off.”

Ithaca Tompkins International Airport Manager Mike Hall expressed his gratitude to the federal officials for their work in getting the money for the airport, acknowledging that even with a slight bump around when Cornell University’s students returned home just before Thanksgiving, the airport is still seeing about 70 percent less air travel year over year from 2020—which is actually less of a dip than what’s been seen elsewhere in New York State.

Though Hall strongly believes the cleaning and air filtration protocols in place for planes make them likely the safest options for travel during the pandemic, he said he still understands why travel has gone down so significantly—particularly because people want to avoid going somewhere else where the virus may be more prevalent than it is in Tompkins County.

“We’re deeply grateful to our federal representatives for continuing to provide assistance during the very difficult times with the pandemic,” Hall said. Industry projections are hopeful that air travel will be around 80 percent of what it normally is by mid-summer, but that depends on the tenuous vaccine distribution program. “We’ve got a lot of hope and optimism that those actions that are underway will result in us turning the corner on the pandemic, getting it behind us. But it’s a future prediction, and we know how that goes.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com