The History of the FLAPS

Finger Lakes Regional Airport (0G7) was formally known as the Seneca Falls Airport. That airport was built in the 1940’s and was originally a grass field. Sometime in the 1950’s, the airport runway was paved to a length of 3200 feet. The airport was under private ownership for many years. It was under private ownership in 1983 when I moved to this area. The owner of the airport at that time was seeking to sell and was prepared to sell for non-aviation use of the land. There was a developer interested in the airport property and it was easy to see that if sold to this developer, the airport would be shut down and private homes would be built on the property.

In 1983, the airport was in poor condition. There was a line of dilapidated, rusting metal T-hangars. There was a mechanic on the airport that rebuilt wrecked aircraft and the airport was littered with aircraft lying about in pieces. There was a filthy office attached to the main hangar, a bathroom with a toilet that didn’t flush well and a sink with no hot water. The main hangar had poor lighting, the ceiling was falling down in places and it had no heat. There had been a skydiving business on the airport, but that moved prior to 1983.

The based aircraft owners were aware that the airport was for sale, but the asking price was beyond what seemed reasonable. In order to “save the airport”, the aircraft owners banded together and formed Seneca Aviation, Inc. (SAI). There was an open house at the airport in the summer of 1983 and memberships in Seneca Aviation were offered for people of a like mind who wanted to save the airport. I joined SAI at that time even though SAI offered nothing for the non-owner pilot. There was no aircraft to rent, but, as a pilot, it was important to me to keep this airport open. For 1983 to 1986, SAI leased the airport from its private owner and became the operator of the airport. SAI collected tie-down payments and managed to keep aviation fuel for sale. There was no mechanic on the airport during this time.

In 1986, Seneca County purchased the airport from the private owner. Seneca Aviation continued to operate the airport for the County and did so profitably. In November 1990, the County hired Dove Aviation of Connecticut to manage the airport. This relationship ended in 1992, at which time Seneca County undertook full operation of the airport.

In 1988, Seneca Aviation purchased N2346T, a 1971 Piper Cherokee 140 from the Palmyra Flying Club. The money to purchase this aircraft came from Fly-In Breakfasts held yearly from 1985 – 2008 and from a loan from SAI member pilots. 46T was not a pretty airplane back then. It had its original dull white paint with faded gold and blue stripes. The interior was ragged and the avionics and flight instruments were ancient and on their last legs. Over time, the interior was replaced, as were the radios and navigation equipment

In 1997, 46T landed short of a grass runway in Cayuga County. The two members on board were not injured. They walked away from the accident without a scratch, but the airplane did suffer some minor front-end damage and required repair. It seemed like a good time to fix more that what was broken in the accident. 46Twas trucked to a local farm equipment dealership where the members of SAI stripped every bit of old paint off of the aircraft. Then the aircraft was trucked to the Corning Painted Post airport where the damage caused by the accident was repaired. Then 46T went into the paint shop and took on the color scheme you see today. It took a real effort from the members of SAI at that time to do the work on 46T and that made us a very tight-knit group. Everyone worked toward the common goal of making 46T better than it was before the accident.

In 1993, the decision was made to build a hangar for 46T. Of course, SAI didn’t have the money to build, so a loan was arranged with several of the SAI members and other non-member pilots and the hangar was built. Each person who loaned money for the hangar build was paid back on time. After the hangar was built, 46T continued to live outdoors tied down on the ramp, as SAI needed the income from the two hangar renters to pay back the loans. It was several years before we began to keep 46T in our own hangar. During the time of the hangar build there was disagreement between users of the airport on just what the future of the airport should be. One group wanted things to remain the same. They wanted to have the use of the airport for little or no cash outlay. The other group realized that the airport was stagnant, in disrepair and not a very inviting place to be. Certainly, it didn’t inspire a positive first impression of Seneca County or the Finger Lakes for anyone flying in to the airport. The two sides began a membership campaign to bolster support for their particular school of thought. The SAI membership grew to about 75 people, many of them non-pilots and urged to join in order to tip the scales in favor of one side or the other. The whole thing came down to a vote and the vote was to support the County and seek airport improvements to make the airport a better place. Those who did not want to see any change at the airport moved their airplanes to the privately owned Waterloo Airport where they could do whatever they wanted without interference from the County. Of course, they gave up an all weather airport for a grass field that was unusable when wet or snow-covered. This was an ugly time at the airport and an uncomfortable time to be in a leadership position at SAI. When this group of disgruntled people left the airport, the atmosphere improved. The pilots who stayed were willing to work together to see our airport improve.

In 1994, the underground fuel tanks were removed and the new above ground fuel system was installed. In 1998, the new terminal building was built, the old rusty T-hangars were torn down, the old trailer that used to sit just west of the terminal as removed and, in general, the airport was cleaned up. Runway 18 – 36 was lengthened to 4600 feet and widened to 75 feet and renamed runway 01 – 19. A full-length parallel taxiway was built, new ramp space added, new hangars and a new equipment building.

In the late 1990’s, SAI members began to think about becoming a not-for-profit corporation under the laws of NY State. The reasoning behind this is that our main function was to train new pilots and encourage aviation safety. Finger Lakes Area Pilots, Inc., (FLAPS), was formed on April 8, 2003. The corporation known as Seneca Aviation was dissolved and officially ceased to exist on June 21, 2007.

So, Finger Lakes Area Pilots, Inc. started as a small group of pilots and aviation supporters with the sole purpose of saving our airport from being closed. After successfully saving the airport, the members of this organization worked tirelessly to support airport improvements and provide a good airplane for our members to fly. Today we are still flying N2346T, but an improved version with an IFR GPS, ADS-B In and Out and new flight instruments. We have a dedicated staff of flight instructors who can take a member from zero hours to their private, instrument and commercial ratings at very affordable prices. We have taught many people to fly and some of them have gone on to fly professionally. The FLAPS leadership is all -volunteer and improvements to the daily management of the organization continue with the addition of Internet scheduling and the ability to take credit card payments.

FLAPS will continue to maintain our aircraft to the highest standards and will continue to support safe and affordable flying.

David Haimes – Founding Member