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Upgrades in the works at Watertown airport

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Watertown International Airport is undergoing some promising changes. A new airline flying larger planes will soon offer direct flights to Chicago. Other improvements are also in the works to accommodate more business and the new flights at the county-owned airport. Joanna Richards reports.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

Right now, Cape Air provides service to Albany three times a day on nine-seat planes. That will change Nov. 17, when Cape Air's contract ends and new carrier American Eagle will begin offering twice-daily nonstop service to Chicago O'Hare on 44-seat planes.

Barry Ormsby is chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators's ad-hoc airport committee. He says the changes will help better serve the airport's users – and bring in new ones.

Between the business community, our friends at Fort Drum, our neighbors to the north in Ontario and our vacationers, we're really optimistic that this is the transition that we've been looking for since we took over the operations back in '06.

Meanwhile, some facilities improvements are planned to the airport itself to accommodate the new flights.

We're looking right now just to augment our baggage area, where our, so the baggage coming and going – especially for our military folks, a lot of times they handle three or four big bags and they need to be able to easily accommodate that. Um, the flow through the terminal for security purposes with TSA and everything needed to be enhanced slightly as well.

Ormsby says the county hopes to break ground on the project just after Labor Day. 

Watertown gets Essential Air Service subsidies from the federal Department of Transportation. Those subsidies have come under attack recently from some Republican lawmakers at the national level, as part of the debate on spending cuts. 

Ormsby says he can envision a day when federal subsidies won't be necessary to keep the Watertown airport afloat.

Our goal ultimately is to get away from the Essential Air Service and show that we've got customer base enough and we can attract enough people right in this local area to fly out of Watertown with the proper aircraft and the right destination, that hopefully – it's our hope within a few years to not need the Essential Air Service.

For now, though, Ormsby says, the more the airport is able to grow its customer base, the more funding it will be eligible for in future years from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Even with the improvements, larger planes and a major transportation hub as a new destination, the Watertown International Airport will still offer some of the perks of a small-town operation: parking is still free for the time being.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm Joanna Richards in Watertown.

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