Written by Christy Hinko Friday, 25 March 2011 00:00
After many years of contention, Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Steve Israel have received acknowledgement from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that it does not have the authority to demolish the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale as part of its runway safety program. The FAA has also conceded that federal dollars can be used to save the museum and investigate relocation, as opposed to tearing it down.
Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Steve Israel announced at a press conference on Monday, March 21 that the American Airpower Museum, housing vintage aircraft in a 35,000 square foot hangar, attracting nearly 40,000 visitors annually, has been saved from demolition.
In 2008, the FAA announced its plans to demolish two hangars at Republic Airport, one of which houses the American Airpower Museum, to expand the runway and meet new runway safety criteria.
At the time, the FAA claimed it did not have the authority to utilize funding from the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) to move the museum, but was permitted under statute to demolish the structure, a claim that Schumer and Israel argued against.
After several years of negotiations and an unwavering FAA, Schumer and Israel drafted language, a reauthorization bill, that would explicitly and unequivocally state that the FAA did in fact have the authority to use federal funds to relocate the museum, removing any doubt about the agency’s authority to do so.
Under the threat of the legislation, the FAA finally conceded saying, “the FAA does not have the legal authority to compel the [airport] to demolish the structure.”
Additionally, the FAA reversed itself and made clear that federal funds could in fact be used, under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), to relocate the structure.
“This a monumental win for not only Long Island, but for veterans across the country and the proud aviation history of our armed services,” said Schumer. “The fighters, bombers, and transport planes housed and displayed here were vital to the defense of our nation. It’s imperative that our children and our grandchildren can visit the American Airpower Museum and understand the role these aircraft played and the sacrifices that were made by these pilots to ensure our freedom. To do anything but preserve and protect this facility would be a historical tragedy and I am pleased that working with Congressman Israel we have been able to save the museum.”
In June 2009, Schumer and Israel appeared at the museum and launched a major drive to push the FAA to protect the historic museum and began implementing a strategy to stop the FAA from tearing the structure down.
At the same time, they have been working on a parallel track with New York State’s Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to designate the hangar historically significant and eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places, in order to further block the FAA from moving forward with demolition.
“The work of Long Islanders helped win us World War II and the Cold War, and the American Airpower Museum enshrines that history. Losing it would have been an insult to the generations of Long Islanders who dedicated themselves to freedom. And that’s why I fought so hard with Senator Schumer to preserve it. We’re not just preserving a building, we’re preserving history,” said Israel.
Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone has also been a staunch supporter of the saving the museum. He was in attendance to support Schumer’s and Israel’s announcement.
Bellone reminded residents and community members of the museum’s economic power for the region, and its appeal to attract visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan.
Village of Farmingdale Mayor Butch Starkie and Deputy Mayor Patricia Christiansen issued a joint statement, saying, “Aside from the fact that this Museum draws so many visitors each year from around the world, the aviation industry is such an important part of Farmingdale’s heritage. So many of the men and women in our community served our country not only in the military service but also as workers in aviation plants located in Farmingdale where over 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolts were manufactured. The exhibits at the Museum foster and maintain interest in our military aviation history and the part that Farmingdale played during World War II. We are very grateful to Senator Schumer and Congressman Israel for their efforts in preserving this Museum.”
While the FAA is required to complete the federal environmental review process, the only options remaining for the FAA now are relocation of the museum on the Republic Airport grounds or maintaining the museum at its current location.
Jeff Clyman, president of the museum, said, “Without this effort by the senator and congressman we would have simply ceased to exist as the FAA would have been empowered to destroy this hangar, part of our nation’s heritage and our actual base of operations.”
Schumer and Israel agreed, “The museum is a tribute to our veterans and Long Island’s unique role in American aviation; it will remain a vital attraction for the region.”
Joining the two lawmakers at the press conference was Josephine Raichele of West Babylon, an original “Rosie the Riveter,” who worked at the hangar that now houses the museum when it was manufacturing the P-47 Thunderbolt. The aircraft was the primary fighter aircraft that fought the Germans during World War II.