Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Come Fly with Me: A History of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1927, American Airways leased about 100 acres of farmland in Big Flats to serve as an emergency airfield along its New York-Buffalo route. The airline spent $30,000 preparing two 2,700-foot-long sod runways. Dedication of the airfield took place on September 10 of that year with 4,000 spectators on a specially-built grandstand watching an air carnival with 25 “modern” airplanes. By the early 1930s, the runways were being used twice a day by express and passenger airplanes for ten-minute stopovers during refueling. People came to watch the tri-motor airplanes land and take off again.

American Airways flight at the airport in Big Flats, June 25, 1933
During World War II, the Department of Defense commandeered the airfield for military use. Early in the war, however, the military declared the site surplus and offered it to Chemung County, which purchased 340 acres of land at $125 an acre. With funding from the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the county built three hard-surface runways, several taxi lanes, and guide lights. The county itself paid to clear the land around the runways and to build a parking lot. The Chemung County Airport officially opened on January 1, 1944.

Chemung County Airport, June 8, 1949
Dozens of different airlines have flown into and out of the airport since it was established. In 1945, Pennsylvania Central Airlines flew DC-3s out of Elmira to Washington, Philadelphia, and Buffalo. A year later, Empire Intra-State Airlines and American Airlines came to the airport. In 1947, American Airlines requested that the airport lengthen the runways to accommodate its heavier passenger planes. Mohawk Airlines flew out of Elmira in the 1960s, as did United Airlines. On March 1, 1962, United replaced its DC-3s with new Viscount prop-jet airplanes. This change helped increase passenger traffic through the airport by 27 percent compared to the previous March because the new planes offered faster service and a smoother ride.

Mohawk Airlines planes at the Chemung County Airport, c. 1965
Over the last 70+ years, the airport has undergone numerous changes. In 1959 a new terminal was built and a year later it expanded even further with a new lounge and other amenities for travelers. In 1983, the name of the facility was changed from the Chemung County Airport to the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport.
Aerial view of the airport, c. 1970s or 1980s
The facilities at the airport were renovated and expanded again beginning in 1989. A new 60,000 square foot passenger terminal named for Glenn S. Banfield, the first manager of the airport when the county took over operation in 1944, was opened in 1991. The $6.8 million renovation also included an expanded baggage claim area and a larger departure lounge.

Trophy presented to Glenn S. Banfield
on January 17, 1991 commemorating the
dedication of the Elmira Corning Regional
Airport expansion in his honor
The airport underwent renovations once more in 2000 when the terminal was remodeled with new paint, carpets and flooring, a sprinkler system, and computer connections. And just a couple months ago, on November 11, 2018, Governor Cuomo announced that the latest $61.5 million modernization of the airport was completed.  

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