The Federal Aviation Administration plans to award more than $950,000 in grants to Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, money that will go toward the purchase of new snow removal equipment and also finance the costs of designing the reconstruction plans for one of the three runways there, officials said this week.
The grants, 10 percent of which will be covered by Suffolk County and the New York State Department of Transportation, will also benefit the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing, which is based at the airfield and utilizes its runways, according to Anthony Ceglio, the manager of the Suffolk County-owned airport.
A grant of $585,000 will cover the costs of a new airport snow blower, which officials said will allow for the quicker and more efficient removal of snow so that the facility can reopen sooner after a storm. The new blower will replace a 40-year-old unit that is used to clear lights, signs and aviation equipment of snow.
Mr. Ceglio said the old unit broke down frequently during the most recent winter storms. The new equipment, he said, will help reduce overtime payments to employees because it will allow for faster snow removal.
Also, a $366,300 grant will fund the design of a rehabilitation project for the airport’s second most utilized runway, 15-33, which has deteriorated to the point where patching and sealing are no longer cost effective, according to Mr. Ceglio. On Monday afternoon, he stopped his vehicle on the runway to remove several chunks of the pavement that could potentially damage planes.
Officials with U.S. Representative Tim Bishop’s office said the project will increase safety at the airport and also extend the life of the 5,000-foot-long, 150-foot-wide runway for 20 years. The runway was last rehabilitated in 1991, Mr. Ceglio said.
Mr. Ceglio explained that the county plans to apply for another grant to cover the costs of the actual reconstruction work, which could begin within the next two years. The cost of the actual work will not be known until the designs are completed.
The airport’s longest and most frequently used runway, 6-24, was repaved in 2010 at a cost of $10.6 million. The runway is 9,000 feet long and was closed for about four months during reconstruction. The airport’s third runway, 1-19, also measures 5,000 feet in length and is about 150 feet wide.
“Gabreski is not only a powerful engine for the local economy, it’s a key component of our homeland security infrastructure as home to the 106th Rescue Wing,” Mr. Bishop said in a prepared statement. “These federal investments will help equip Gabreski for decades of reliable and efficient service in its dual commercial-military role.”
The Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing responds to emergencies in New York at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The base also deploys guardsmen worldwide to carry out personnel recovery and search-and-rescue missions, as well as provide combat support for American troops and their allies.
In addition to hosting the 106th Rescue Wing, Gabreski Airport provides a facility for businesses, including private aviation and air taxi services. In 2008, 71,077 flight operations took place at the airport, according to the most recent data provided by the FAA Airport Master Record.
“This federal investment will help improve Gabreski Airport, which is an asset to Long Island’s local economy and home to the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing,” U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said in a prepared statement.
Mr. Ceglio thanked Mr. Bishop, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mr. Schumer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone for their support.
“For an airport like ours, which is a general aviation airport, the funding doesn’t come as frequently as it does for commercial airports,” Mr. Ceglio said. “We’re very excited about it.”
The announcement of the grant money comes less than a week after Mr. Bishop held a press conference at the airport to lament recent federal cuts, known as sequestration, that have forced 220 technicians at the 106th Rescue Wing to take 11 unpaid furlough days between July 8 and September 30—accounting for 20 percent of their pay over that two-and-a-half-month period. Overall, the cuts will cost them about 5 percent of their total annual pay.
And earlier this year, the FAA threatened to close the airport control tower at Gabreski, along with 188 other towers across the country, as a way to reduce spending as part of sequestration. The administration decided weeks later to keep 40 of the targeted towers open, including the one at Gabreski, citing concerns for national security.