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Wings Over Batavia in good shape so far, volunteers and sponsorships sought

By Joanne Beck
Pete Zeiliff
Pete Zeliff. 
Photo by Howard Owens

Daredevil pilots and acrobatic performers up in the air, fireworks, a love for community, beef on weck, kids and even bumpers in a bowling alley.

Committee members for the Wings Over Batavia Air Show had no problems connecting all of those things as symbols and reasons for bringing an air show back to Genesee County Airport during a presentation to potential sponsors Thursday at Pete Zeliff’s hangar on Saile Drive.

“So Pete used the word community a couple of times in there, and that’s what really these air shows are all about, community; it really is a community event,” air show veteran and consultant Dennis Dunbar said to a group of about 50 people. “When I go bowling I ask for those bumpers to go in the gutters, and I’m kinda like those bumpers because I’m just trying to help the local community keep the ball going down the alley straight. And it really is a community event put on by all the work of the volunteers and everybody here is local that’s doing it. so I’ve never really compared myself to bumpers in a bowling alley. That’s actually pretty good.”

With Dunbar’s guidance and a committee led by 14 chairpersons overseeing the various components of this event, from traffic control and concessions to security, marketing, sponsorships and performance acts, Zeliff feels good about the progress being made, he said.

He and a handful of committee members went to a series of related trainings in Las Vegas, and brought back useful details about orchestrating the event that's set for Labor Day weekend, they said.

County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said that his primary goal was to “protect the county.” He sought out information related to security and liability issues to ensure that Genesee County would be on safe legal ground throughout the show.

He also mentioned the “three Ts,” though the committee added a fourth one, that have become a crucial and practical focus. Committee member Eve Hens, Tim’s wife, also attended the training, and spoke in more detail about the four “Ts” to make the airshow a “safe, enjoyable event.”

Traffic — it’s important to control traffic and keep it moving so that visitors are not stuck in a line waiting to park.

Trash — nobody wants it flying around mucking up the grounds.

Toilets — have plenty of them and easy to locate, but not disrupting a nice visual.

Tickets —they should be accessible and easy to purchase.

Mundane, perhaps, but all part of a successful event, per those training seminars. 

Eve Hens emphasized these details to potential sponsors being asked to consider donation levels of $1,000 to $50,000. There were brochures with perks listed for certain levels, such as free tickets, sponsor promotions, plane rides with an air show performer, and an exclusive chalet for guests.

And everyone will look up and what will they see? Matt Younkin Beech 18, P-51 Demo Team Mad Max and Little Witch, Jim Peitz One-of-a-Kind Bonanza, USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team, to name a few. 

Dunbar described it, beginning in the daytime and going through twilight hours and into the night, the action culminating with a big pyromusical, he said. That’s a fireworks display choreographed to music.

“You're gonna see things in the show that most of you haven't seen before. We have, like Pete mentioned, some of the best performers in the business as far as entertainment goes. These are the folks that practice and make a living out of this. They're as safe as we can get in this business. And that's important to us, too. We have this show, we want to inspire folks,” Dunbar said. When I went to my first air show, I was 10 years old. I had an uncle who flew in World War Two, but he never talked about it. So I had no aviation in my family. And I went to my first air show, and I was so inspired by what I saw, that I knew right then I wanted to be a pilot and I wanted to put on air shows.”

One truth he has discovered is that, while it’s hard to find true heroes nowadays, because celebrities and sports stars “have a tendency to let us down,” the air show people are different, he said.

“The folks you are going to meet at the air show, and your kids are going to meet, the kids in the community you're going to meet here, they are true heroes that are great role models and folks that aren't going to let those kids down and they're going to set those kinds of lasting memories and maybe spark that passion in them, and that's going to take them places in the future. So maybe one day they can compare themselves to bowling alley bumpers,” he said. “I think you're gonna find yourself being more than just sponsors, you're going to take ownership in this event and you're going to feel part of something special. You're part of a team that's really bringing something back to the community. And that's something to be proud of.”

For Zeliff, his inspiration — or, rather, aspiration — to bring back the air show is “the kids,” he said. He enjoys seeing the expression on kids’ faces when they see and get to go inside of a plane, and how planes have impacted many of their lives later on after attending his youth airplane camp.

Founded several years ago, the camp takes only 10 kids a year and fills up nearly as fast as it takes to open up enrollment. This year he has added an essay portion to the application, Zeliff said. Participants have come from all over the country, and the camp has produced several military pilots.

Those lessons have proven to kids that something so seemingly out of their grasp was attainable: they can learn to fly, he said.

Zeliff wasn’t one of those kids. Although his personal experience hasn’t been one of nostalgia from his own childhood, Zeliff said that’s his primary inspiration.

He was only prompted to fly once he found himself traveling so much for work, he said. That was in the early 2000s, and he has been airborne ever since. Zeliff attended various air show-related training sessions in Las Vegas and his focus was on the big picture. He knew about air shows, but had never put one on from start to finish.

He had to learn all the ins and outs of obtaining performers, and especially — what spectators want.

“They come for one reason and one reason only,” he said. “They want to be entertained.”

In those humble beginnings when he thought,”what’s the big deal, we’ll just put on an air show,” he had much to learn, he admitted. There are several components to it, from traffic control and security to seating, restrooms, concession stands, sponsorship amenities and every possible detail in between.

There will be some varieties of typical carnival foods, such as hotdogs and hamburgers, plus local fare, perhaps beef on weck, and other concessions, plus beverages and some of them on tap.

The projected budget goal for Wings Over Batavia Air Show is $600,000, with $100,000 raised to date, Zeliff said. He believes this is going to be a huge event in the entertainment sense, and also in its impact for the community.

There are some 200 volunteers signed up to help, and the committee could use 200 more, he said. 

The two-day air extravaganza is expected to draw 10,000 to 20,000 people to Genesee County.

For more information, go to Wings Over Batavia.  


Wings over Batavia
Photo by Howard Owens
wingsover batavia
                      Dennis Dunbar                         Photo by Howard Owens


Eve Hens Wings Over Batavia
Eve Hens 
Photo by Howard Owens
wings over batavia
Photo by Howard Owens
wings over batavia
          Doreen Hillard and Pete Zeliff  
 Photo By Howard Owens

Congressman Collins visits Genesee County Airport, talks about secured federal funding

By Maria Pericozzi


Congressman Chris Collins, center, discusses the grant funding and runway reconstruction with Tim Hens, the county highway superintendent.

Genesee County Officials gave Congressman Chris Collins a tour of the Genesee County Airport on Wednesday, showing Collins what the recently secured Department of Transportation funds will be going toward.

On July 20, Collins announced that $2,926,222 in federal funding had been secured for the airport, located in Batavia, to resurface the center portion of the runway. The runway has not been resurfaced since 1978, according to Tim Hens, the county highway superintendent.

Collins said everyone was working together successfully to secure the grant.

“Without the federal government, you wouldn’t have it,” Collins said. “There’s no way Genesee County has the money. There is a role for the federal government.”

A lot of people wonder why the federal government gives money to small airports, Hens said.

“The reality of it is, you want to get some of the small plane traffic away from Buffalo and Rochester,” Hens said. “So, when you’re landing [large planes,] they’re not having to deal with small planes.”

Hens said they received the grant money Tuesday, but the runway reconstruction will start next spring.

“We gave the contractor the option of going this fall,” Hens said. “They said they want to start in the spring.”

There will only be a period of two weeks where the runway will be completely closed down during the day. The construction will be phased in and there will be a lot of nighttime work, Hens said.

Medium-sized business jets will be able to land once the runway is complete. Hens said the runway is limited to jets under 47,000 pounds, but once the restoration is complete, planes up to 65,000 pounds will be able to land.

The Genesee County Airport is perfect for a lot of businesses and Darien Lake Theme Park talent, Hens said.

“We need to make it convenient for corporate executives to get into Genesee County,” Collins said. “This is a big win. It is federal money and the county is not having to borrow money.”

Collins said the reconstruction will impact the county in the long run.

“The message here is, this is a county that gets it, is business-friendly and knows how to take care of infrastructure,” Collins said. “Whether it's sewers, roads, water or electricity, that’s what’s important to business."

For previous coverage of the grant funding, click here.



Collins announces $1.4 million grant for Genesee County Airport

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today announced $1,411,200 in federal funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for the Genesee County Airport, located in Batavia. The grant will assist the Genesee County Airport in funding the final phase of its airport construction project. The airport is building an aircraft-parking apron, a taxiway extension, and removing of a number of runway obstructions.

“Using federal funds to support local infrastructure projects will help establish an environment that promotes future economic development and employment opportunities,” Congressman Collins said. “This $1,411,200 grant will provide Genesee County with the funding it needs to complete the final phase of its project. Grants like these allow for more efficient and effective airport operations that will benefit our region for years to come.”

“This crucial FAA grant will allow Genesee County to complete Phase 3 of our Airport project, which includes the removal of the old terminal building and hangar,” said Raymond Cianfrini, chairman of the Genesee County Legislature. “We appreciate our partnership with Congressman Collins and look forward to giving him and our community a tour of the completed project.”

The Congressman’s office remains available to assist any local government pursuing a federal grant.


County Airport terminal wins aviation design award

By Howard B. Owens

The newly constructed terminal and hangar at the Genesee County Airport received the Phil Brito Airport Project of the Year award last night from the Aviation Management Association.

File photo.

County will seek reimbursement for damage errant pilot did to airport signs and lights

By Howard B. Owens

A plane that made an emergency landing on East Saile Drive on Thursday afternoon was in a mishap on the runway of the Genesee County Airport moments before and caused possibly as much as $20,000 damage, according to County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens.

Hens does not yet have actual estimates to fix the damage yet, but he's figuring it will be at least $15,000 and possibly as much as $20,000.

The county will seek reimbursement from the pilot's insurance carrier, Hens said.

The name of the pilot is not yet available, but Hens said he is apparently inexperienced and was performing touch-and-go practice at the airport when his plane veered off the runway for some reason.

The plane struck a light, a guidance sign, more lights and another guidance sign. There were very visible wheel marks in the grass along the south side of the runway, to the pilot's left, The marks go for at least 500 feet after the last sign was struck and then the pilot took off again, but he was losing fuel fast from a puncture in one of his tanks.

"It's pure speculation on my part as to why he took off again," Hens said. "It's almost like a hit-and-run or maybe he panicked and pulled up on the throttle, but when you're driving a car and hit something, you don't usually speed up."

The FAA is investigating the accident.

Losing fuel as fast as he was, he was unable to maintain altitude and was forced to find a place to land quickly.

"How he managed to not hit any power lines or the fence and still land on Saile Drive is beyond me," Hens said.

Photos: New terminal at county airport

By Howard B. Owens


The County Legislature's Public Service Committee held its monthly meeting at the new terminal at the County Airport. Before the meeting, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens gave attendees a tour of the facility.

We'll have coverage of the meeting later today.






Plans for new $5.1 million County Airport terminal move forward

By Howard B. Owens

The county's Public Service Committee recommended approval Tuesday of four construction contracts for a new airport terminal with an expected expenditure of $5.1 million.

That's about $800,000 less than Highway Superintendent Tim Hens originally estimated for the job.

State and federal grants will pay for about 20 percent of the terminal and the county will bond the remaining $4 million.

Once approved by the full Legislature, contracts will be awarded to: Building Innovation Group, of East Rochester, a general contractor, for $3.3 million; Hewitt Young Electric, of Rochester, for $600,000; Nairy Mechanical, of Union Hill, for $550,000; and HMI Mechanical Systems, of Lyons, for $660,000.

C&S Engineers, of Syracuse, is also receiving up to nearly $400,000 for engineering work on the project.

In all, 31 bids were received on the four different construction contracts -- general contractor, HAVC, electrical and plumbing. Hens said the recommended companies all met the lowest, responsible bidder criteria for bid specification.

Hens showed up the plans for the new terminal to legislators and reiterated that the project is necessary both because of the poor condition of the current terminal and its proximity to the airport's runway.

Repairing the building would cost more than $500,000 and Hens said, "even if we wanted to spend the money, I'm not sure the FAA would let us."

The current terminal violates current FAA regulations for being a fixed object within 200 feet of the runway and is not even within the bounds for allowable moveable objects.

While allowing that an accident is unlikely, it wouldn't be good for the county if there is one, Hens said.

"You could have a plane veer off runway and hit one of our buildings and there could be potentially be liability involved," Hens said.

The new building will have modern amenities, an attractive design and be more comfortable for pilots with layovers in Batavia, but it won't be extravagant.

"There's nothing super fancy in the new facility," Hens said. "Everything is meant to be very low maintenance and practical.

While as a matter of energy efficiency, the building would qualify for LEED certification (and be the first such building owned by the county), Hens said he has no intention of applying for certification.

"I don't feel it's worth spending $25,000 or $30,000 just to have a plaque to hang the wall," Hens said.

The new terminal will only be about 1,000 square feet larger than the current terminal, which was built in 1964, but will use space more efficiently, Hens said.

Hens said about three or four corporate jets fly into the Genesee County Airport every week. Some of those jets bring executives from businesses already located in the area, but some of them are bringing site selectors and executives looking for new business locations. That makes the airport terminal a pretty important facility for the county.

"Our airport is a first impression for a lot of folks," Hens said. "The first impression on people who are going to have a big impact on the long-term future of our county."

Collins announces additional FAA grants for airports in Genesee County

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) announced today additional grant funding for the Genesee County Airport and a separate grant for the Le Roy Airport.

The Genesee County Airport is receiving a $200,000 federal grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to build a new terminal building. According to the FAA, the existing terminal has "exceeded its useful life" and needs to be replaced. Earlier this week, Collins announced additional FAA grants for the Genesee County Airport totaling more than $1 million. That money will allow the County to relocate the airport’s apron and design a new taxiway.

Collins also announced $137,773 in federal funding for the Le Roy Airport (Le Roy Aviation Services). The money will allow the airport to remove trees and other obstructions near the Runway 10 approach to ensure clear navigation and enhance safety.

Photo: Moon over Mercy Flight

By Howard B. Owens

While out at the Genesee County Airport tonight, I noticed the beautiful full moon right after a Mercy Flight helicopter landed.

Photos: The Memphis Belle at the county airport

By Howard B. Owens

I got four emails from four different people this morning about a B-17 being parked at the Genesee County Airport.

It turns out it's been there almost a week. The plane is the Memphis Belle, a prop plane used in the movie of that name. Its proper home is the Geneseo Airport, but since that is a grass field, all the recent rains have made the runway too soggy for landing such a large bird.

The Memphis Belle is expected to depart some time Wednesday.

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