Airport Under the Microscope

       One of Hartford’s treasures, the Hartford-Brainard Airport (Brainard), is under the microscope of local politicians, as the latest stopgap measure to fix the City of Hartford’s financial problems.  In theory, so some politicians believe, the land is prime real estate, ideally situated near the highway and the Connecticut River for development.  This shortsighted view has no basis in reality.

       First, let’s examine the airport. The Connecticut Airport Authority, a quasi-public agency, owns the Hartford-Brainard Airport site. The airport authority was established in July 2011 to manage, operate, and develop Bradley International Airport and the five state-owned general aviation airports (Danielson, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard, Waterbury-Oxford, and Windham).[1] Effective July 1, 2013, the FAA approved the transfer of the state’s six airports from the Department of Transportation to CAA. In assuming all airport-related powers, duties, and functions, CAA must ensure “compliance with all federal obligations the state has incurred.”[2]

       The airport authority’s powers are vested in and exercised by its board of directors. The 11 volunteer members of the board serve four-year terms. There are four gubernatorial[3] and four legislative appointees as well as three state officials serving in an ex officio capacity.[4] The board meets monthly and it may act with a quorum of six members. The board appoints an executive director who does not sit on the board but attends all meetings and manages the daily operations of the authority under its directives.[5] 

       Although CAA owns the airport and the underlying land, FAA approval would need to be secured to close the airport or sell any airport property because:

  • Federal funds have been received for airport projects in the last 20 years, with the most recent receipt in 2015. Consequently, until 2035 per FAA rules, CAA is required to operate an airport on the site, although it can request FAA approval of any proposed site changes; and

  • Due to the use of FAA funds to purchase the land and airport from the City of Hartford, there may be a perpetual obligation to remain an airport. That would mean FAA approval would have to be obtained for any site changes in the future (beyond 2035).

       FAA guidelines state that the deciding factor in obtaining FAA approval for closure is the potential to benefit civil aviation; economic development is excluded from consideration.[6] 

       If FAA approval were given, according to Kevin A. Dillon, A.A.E., Executive Director and CEO at the Connecticut Airport Authority, some $3,870,954.30 would need to be repaid.[7]  This number will increase as other grants become active.  The next planned receipt of federal airport funds is $5,500,000 in SFY 2019 to replace one of the airport’s asphalt runways.[8] 

       In addition to the costs to dismantle the field, the local business would be entitled to compensation.  Really?  Yes.  Remember the constitution?  Well the 5th Amendment provides some additional protections other than the right against incrimination “. . . nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

       If there were a decision to stop accepting federal funds in order to allow obligations from equipment, facility, and plan grants to gradually expire, the airport sponsor – CAA – would still be responsible for making necessary airport repairs until the final expiration date. Alternatively, as noted above, the CAA could request early release from these grant assurances. If early release were requested, it is likely that FAA would require the existing amount of grant obligations to be repaid. The amount would decline over time, diminishing to zero in 2035.[9]

       The airport sits in a potential flood zone and a series of dikes have been constructed to protect it from any floods.   The airport has been in existence for 95 years and is one of Connecticut’s busiest.  According to the Airport Master Records and Reports, the following table highlights the activities at the airport:[10]

       Who exactly is based there?  Let’s begin with public services – including the Connecticut State Police air operations, the Civil Air Patrol (Air Force Auxiliary), and Emergency Services.  Life Star and other various helicopters, jets, and corporate aircraft come and go on a regular basis.  Looking at the private sector, the Hartford Jet Center recently became the major Fixed Base Operator (FBO) lease holder and there are several excellent flight schools located at the field.  Fuel sales, flight instruction, charter, aircraft rental, transient corporate aircraft, maintenance repair, and avionics are just some of the activities that are occurring at the field every day.  When the “Hood” Blimp arrives to cover the PGA’s Travelers Championship in Cromwell, it’s taking off and landing at Brainard.

       The airport is well equipped to host corporate visitors, with instrument approaches available and a 4,417’ runway.  Here is the data:[11]

       What’s around the airport?  For one thing, a water treatment facility.  Take off on a hot summer day from the south side of the field on runway 2, complete your run-up, and you will be treated to the smell of raw sewage.  As shown below, an open pool resides adjacent to the end of the runway. 

 Exhibit 5 to Connecticut General Assembly Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee's report entitled, " Use of Hartford-Brainard Airport’s Site Staff Interim Report."  (July 20, 2016)

Exhibit 5 to Connecticut General Assembly Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee's report entitled, "Use of Hartford-Brainard Airport’s Site Staff Interim Report." (July 20, 2016)

       To the north of Brainard, the Materials Innovation & Recycling Authority (MIRA) is situated.  Again, not exactly the ideal neighbor for office buildings, condominiums, other housing and/or retail

 Appendix E to Connecticut General Assembly Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee's report entitled, " Use of Hartford-Brainard Airport’s Site Staff Interim Report."  (July 20, 2016)

Appendix E to Connecticut General Assembly Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee's report entitled, "Use of Hartford-Brainard Airport’s Site Staff Interim Report." (July 20, 2016)

       Back in 2009, the FAA did its own analysis of the impact of general aviation in Connecticut.   Brainard is a primary airport for general aviation.  The numbers might surprise people who are advocating the closure of the field.  In 2009, for the State of Connecticut, general aviation accounted for $160,117,123.00 in economic activity, $47,091,777 in earnings, visitor earnings of $14,282,422, with 873 jobs directly attributable to general aviation, and another 395 jobs indirectly attributable to visitors.[12]

       What about the loss to the community of the jobs that are provided?  What does this attitude say to local aviation companies?   In 2007, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (the largest general aviation pilot organization in the country) held its Expo at Hartford’s new Connecticut Convention Center.  What about the economic benefits derived from its convention?  Shouldn’t Hartford be attempting to attract more of these events? 

       The Connecticut General Assembly Office of Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee’s draft study is due in October.  Does it have the resources and expertise to quantify all of the various aspects of closing down the airport?  Has it retained aviation experts, land use experts, legal experts, and development experts to quantify the true cost?  Has anyone contacted the Army Corp. of Engineers about the flood plane? 

       More importantly, will any other development match the benefits derived from the airport for the City and the region?

       Fly Safe!

       William J. Cass, Esq., CFI, AGI

 

[1] C.G.S. Sec. 15-120cc. These functions were previously performed by several state agencies and, with the exception of those of the Department of Transportation (DOT), were transferred to CAA immediately upon its creation.

[2] Ibid. 

[3] The governor appoints a chairperson from the four gubernatorial appointees. 

[4] Per C.G.S. Sec. 15-120bb(b), the State Treasurer, Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner, and Department of Transportation commissioner, or their designees, serve as voting members of the CAA Board of Directors. 

[5] Connecticut General Assembly Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee.  Use of Hartford-Brainard Airport’s Site Staff Interim Report. (July 20, 2016).

[6] Id.

[7] Kevin A. Dillon, A.A.E. (Executive Director and CEO at the Connecticut Airport Authority) in discussion with the author, August 2016.

[8] Connecticut General Assembly Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee.  Use of Hartford-Brainard Airport’s Site Staff Interim Report. (July 20, 2016).

[9] Id. 

[10] http://www.gcr1.com/5010web/

[11] Id. 

[12] https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/reports/economic_impact_map/media/FAA_Economic_Impact_Reportby_State_2011.pdf