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BATAVIA – The Genesee County Airport, once derided as a waste of taxpayer money and a playground for the wealthy, in the last decade has become an asset important to the local business community.

Timothy J. Hens, highway superintendent for the county, which operates the facility that houses about 40 aircraft in several hangars and a tie-down area, told a County Legislature committee recently that the airport provides 23 jobs and generates $2.35 million in economic activity “at little cost to the taxpayers.”

The airport on East Saile Drive north of the city extended its runway to 5,500 feet several years ago so it can accommodate private business jets. Regular landings by corporations that own a half-dozen local retailers are now common.

It is also home to helicopters operated by State Police Troop A, whose headquarters is nearby, and Mercy Flight, the air ambulance service.

Northern State, which does aerial mapping along the East Coast, and crop dusters for area farms are seasonal tenants.

The airport has been profitable in the past decade, earning the county about $100,000 a year in rent and fuel sales.

Next year’s major improvements will be a new terminal, relocating and doubling the size of tie-down aprons and new taxiways at a cost of $6.5 million. Funding has come from the Federal Aviation Administration, with smaller amounts from the state and county.

Hens said the FAA has allocated $15 million for numerous improvements in the past 15 years.

The airport is on a site that dates to the 1930s and was used by light aircraft on a dirt runway with some border lights. The county took over ownership and operations in the mid-1960s. It is open daily for 14 hours.

The airport’s prominence was evident when it hosted the “Wings of Eagles” aerial shows for two years, drawing thousands of spectators and visits by U.S. Air Force Stealth fighter planes.

Boshart Enterprises and Aircraft Services is a major tenant and provides maintenance on planes based there, most of them locally owned, but there are Buffalo-area and Rochester-area fliers with planes housed there as well.