Regional jets will replace the last of Ithaca airport’s turboprops

Starting next month, the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport’s three commercial airline routes will all feature jet aircraft, according to airport officials. United is replacing the last remaining turboprops serving the airport with Embraer regional jets.

At the same time, Tompkins County says an FAA grant will provide 90% of the funding to install a new passenger boarding bridge at the airport. The $870,763 grant will be supplemented by a 5% commitment from the New York State Department of Transportation, with the remaining 5% funded by airport facility charges.

An American Airlines Embraer regional jet. 14850 file photo.

According to airport manager Mike Hall, United will be using Embraer ERJ-145 regional jets with turbofan engines. The United regional service to Newark Liberty International Airport joins Delta’s regional service to Detroit and American’s regional service to Philadelphia in using Embraer’s family of ERJ planes.

For United, the 50-seat ERJs replacing the 37-seat Dash-8 turboprops mean more capacity “to accommodate increased passenger demand.” The major national airlines recently reduced regional service to nearby Binghamton and Elmira airports, which has left Ithaca with a larger share of business and tourism traffic.

Ithaca’s “new” airport terminal building, which opened in 1994, was designed with jet service in mind, and for a time, passenger service included 737 jet aircraft along with smaller propeller planes, including Beechcraft and de Havilland or Bombardier Dash-8 planes. Regional airlines have increasingly used small jets like the Embraer, known for its three-seats-across configuration, but many have retained older turboprop fleets due to the lower operating cost for short, regional flights. For Ithaca, the turboprops were a replacement for Embraer and Bombardier CRJ aircraft that were in wide use here before the flurry of airline mergers of the last several years.

“The jets offer a smoother ride than turboprop planes they are replacing and give pilots more flexibility to avoid turbulent weather at lower altitudes,” according to airport officials. Jet service between Ithaca and the regional hubs for its three airlines is also substantially faster than turboprop flights.

“They also fit better into the air traffic flow, predominantly made up of other jet aircraft,” according to Hall. “This new service will give ITH a competitive advantage over regional airports that do not offer jet service.”

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