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"Despite perceptions, GA airports highly valued in Connecticut"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 24 Mar 2009 00:36:06 +0430
Monday, March 23, 2009
Small airfields: many lost, some survive
By Frank Juliano
The Connecticut Post
It is one of those statements that seems to be true: Development pressure is
causing smaller, general aviation airports in the state to disappear.
Except, it isn't true, state officials say.
Some longtime airfields, with either grass strips or paved runways, have
given way to housing subdivisions, parking lots, an assisted-living complex,
and even a cemetery. But at the same time the state Department of
Transportation has licensed new facilities to replace them.
Still in demand
There are 147 licensed airports, seaplane bases and helicopter pads in the
state, said Matthew Kelly, the director of the DOT's Bureau of Aviation.
Many more exist but are unlicensed because state law allows up to 36
takeoffs or landings per year at one site without a license being required,
And despite the perception that airports, like any other large parcel, are
too valuable for building lots to leave open, towns are scrambling to buy
such facilities not only for the open space but for the commercial growth
having an airport can provide, officials said.
The town of Plainville is considering the purchase of the Robertson Airport,
which lies within its borders, and would maintain it as a general aviation
facility, Kelly said.
Simsbury officials are also studying the possibility of purchasing the
Tri-Town Airport there, for its usefulness to businesses in the greater
Hartford suburbs, he said.
Last year the DOT approved a new airport in the Waterbury suburb of
Bethlehem, and is currently reviewing applications for a seaplane base and a
heliport, the aviation bureau chief said.
There are six state-owned airports, including Bradley International in
Windsor Locks, Brainard in Hartford, Groton, Windham, Danielson and
Waterbury-Oxford. Four others are municipally owned, including Sikorsky
Memorial, which is in Stratford but owned by Bridgeport, and Tweed-New
Haven, which lies partly in East Haven. The others are in Danbury and
A recent agreement between East Haven and New Haven officials to cooperate
in the upgrading of Tweed's facilities, while capping annual takeoffs and
landings could make that airport into a key regional hub, said Robert
Gregory, Milford's economic development director.
"Obviously, the connections we used to be able to make from Tweed to a hub
was a great thing for this region to have,'' he said. "With this agreement,
now we can move forward.''
The Regional Growth Partnership, which includes communities stretching from
Madison to Milford and as far north as Meriden, has endorsed expanded
scheduled service at Tweed. Currently, US Airways has daily flights between
New Haven and Philadelphia; through the years other carriers have come and
The new and old
Gregory is less sanguine about the chances for expanded services at Sikorsky
Memorial Airport. A panel with representation from Milford, Stratford,
Bridgeport and lower Fairfield County towns is studying the need for safety
improvements and upgraded facilities, and a Federal Aviation Administration
safety study indicates a blast fence at the end of the main runway should be
removed and a road relocated around it.
Robert Kapusta, until recently the chairman of the Economic Development
Commission in Milford, said in a letter that an expanded Sikorsky Airport is
vital to business growth in the region. But some, particularly residents of
the Lordship section of Stratford, opposed the expansion plan at a public
hearing in December. They expressed concerns about noise and safety.
Morgan Kaolian, who learned to fly in the 1940s and still takes to the air
as often as he can, recalled the small airports that used to dot area towns,
including Milford, West Haven, Newtown, Monroe, Bethany and Ansonia.
At Hurd Field in Monroe, Kaolian said, neighbors advised of a nighttime
landing would drive to the field and leave their headlights on to guide the
plane in. The airport opened in 1940, according to the February 2007 Monroe
Historical Society newsletter, and was an auto racing track before that.
After the Moose Hill Road facility closed in the early 1970s, the land
became part of St. John's Cemetery.
Flying Ridge in Newtown is classified as a private airport with limited
public access. "Basically, you have to make arrangements with the owner to
land there,'' the DOT's Kelly said.
But the Orchard Hill Road facility stills sees frequent activity more than
60 years after it was opened by the late Robert Fulton. Town historian Dan
Cruson recalled an incident in the late 1960s or early 1970s when a U.S.
Navy plane made an emergency landing at the Newtown field.
"The pilot spotted it from the air and was able to land, but the field
wasn't long enough for him to take off again.
"They had to bring in some kind of jet packs to get it off the ground.''
Fulton's son, Rawn, manages Flying Ridge from his Massachusetts home.
The 2-acre property is zoned residential and has an appraised value of
$284,000, according to town records.
The licensed facility has a 1,800-foot grass strip runway; most small planes
need only about 1,000 linear feet to take off and land safely, retired pilot
Tom Hine said.
The only indication that West Haven once had an airport are the street names
around its South Street site, now the Seth Haley School. There is Aircraft
Road, Contact Drive, Easy Rudder Lane, Skyline Drive and Compass Lane in the
airport's former neighborhood.
Although it only operated from 1925, when it opened as First Flying
Services, until 1948, the 1,000 foot long dirt runway was well used,
aviation enthusiast Peter Renson said.
"There were four to six V-3 Piper Cubs based there and people were coming in
and out,'' he said. A fatal crash in the late 1940s might have contributed
to the airport's closing, said Renson and fellow pilot Walt Keegan.
Renson also recalled Ansonia Airport, which operated from the 1940s into the
late 1980s, in the city's Hilltop section. "It was a pretty active grass
strip, 1,500 feet long, right on the top of the hill, and they also had a
school there where you could train to get your pilot's license.
"I flew out of there quite a few times, but it finally shut down because of
neighbors' complaints,'' Renson said. "Real estate money talks.''
By some counts, Milford once had two airports, including a busy one almost
exactly where the parking lot for Silver Sands State Park now sits.That
facility is well known to veteran area pilots, but the other is more
A small airstrip on Brewster Road was used only by John Hall, a pilot for
Eastern Airlines in the 1960s and 1970s, who commuted in his small plane to
Logan Field in Boston where he took the command in the cockpit of a
Brewster Road resident Joseph Agro recalled those flights.
"It was a Piper Cub and when he wasn't flying it, he'd keep it in his
barn.'' Hall died several years ago.
Hine, a retired U.S. Navy pilot who taught instrument flying to private
pilots from several Connecticut airports, said the state still has enough
facilities. "Some are gone, but many are left,'' he said.
For example, Hine said, when he lived on Long Island he used to fly into
Waterford Airport to visit his brother. That airport closed in 1987, and the
Waterford Business Center opened on the site two years later.
Closed and for sale
The Griswold Airport in Madison closed a few years ago, he said, but small
airports in Chester and Groton still serve the eastern end of the state.
The saga of the family-owned Griswold airport is a thorny one, Kelly of the
DOT said. The family sold it in 2001 to Leyland Development Corp. for an
assisted-living complex, but town officials did not grant the needed permits
and changed the tax assessment of the 42 acres. The case was only decided in
December, having reached the state Supreme Court.
Airports do close, the DOT official said, including Mountain Meadows in
Harwinton, which also was converted to a senior living facility.
Ellington and Candlelight airports are currently for sale.
Other "airports,'' on closer inspection, are not performing that function.
One, in Litchfield County, was found to have horses on what was supposed to
have been the "runway,'' Kelly said.
"But there is a big advantage to having an airport in your town, not just
for the business generated on the site, but its impact on other local
businesses,'' he said. "If you have a factory that needs a part in a hurry,
would you rather have it sent by truck or flown in?''
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