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October 16, 2019Cart

Business

by Fairfield County Business Journal
by FCBJ

Modest growth forecast for Sikorsky Memorial Airport’s future

A private charter jet managed by Gama Aviation sits on the tarmac outside Volo Aviation at Sikorsky Airport. Photo by Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

The next two decades may see a mild increase in aircraft activity at Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport, according to a draft of a working paper commissioned as part of the facility’s master plan. However, whether the deficit-plagued airport will ever find its way to profitability remains uncertain.

At a June 19 public meeting in Stratford that previewed the working paper draft, Paul O. McDonnell, market segment vice president for aviation at CHA Consulting Inc., an Albany firm contracted to prepare the master plan update for the airport, acknowledged that the facility “runs in the red” — the site averages a $500,000 per year loss — and that one of the goals of his data analysis was to determine if there were “opportunities for revenue generation to help the airport become more self-sufficient.” However, the working paper draft offered no predictions on whether this could occur.

“I don’t know if it will go from the red ink into the black,” he stated.

The 750-acre airport is based in Stratford but is owned by the city of Bridgeport. McDonnell noted that there were 150 aircraft based at the airport, down from 211 in 2009, but he added that decline could be attributed to the national trend of decreased activity in light recreational flying by individuals with their own airplanes and changes in how the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) collects data.

“In the last 10 years, the FAA has been critical of airports double counting airplanes,” he said. “An airplane that may be based in Florida in the winter is counted by a Florida airport, and if the airplane is coming up here for the summer it is counted as being up here as well. The FAA created a database to avoid that double counting, and a lot of airports lost some of their count.”

McDonnell pointed out that Sikorsky Memorial Airport has two runways: Runway 6-24, which is 4,677 feet long and 100 feet wide; and Runway 11-29, which is 4,761 feet long and 150 feet wide. Runway 6-24 underwent construction between 2014 and 2016 and its original width of 150 feet was narrowed during this process — an action that McDonnell felt may not have been the best idea.

“The runway was narrowed from 150 to 100 feet at the time of the project because the standard was for 100 feet of runway width,” he said. “If that project was going on now, it would have probably justified keeping the 150 for those aircraft with larger wingspan.”

The other runway, according to McDonnell, is the biggest infrastructure problem at the airport. “It does have bad pavement and that is the focus of the master plan: how, when and can the funding be obtained to rehabilitate that runway,” he said. “If there is a project that gets funded and moves forward, it is going to be the rehabilitation of that crosswind runway. This is the highest priority for rehabilitation.”

McDonnell observed that the airport is home to 11 corporate tenants and the working paper draft did not call for new construction to replace existing buildings at the site.

“Almost all of the areas in the airport that can be developed are developed already,” he said. “The plan is mostly about redevelopment and improvement of existing facilities.”

The one patch of land that is available for new construction is a 25-acre spot adjacent to the parking lot and a now-empty building that was formerly the flight service station. McDonnell stated this was the one place at the airport which is above the flood plain level, which could make it ideal for future development.

“We will be looking at that area if it is an appropriate area for more hangars or what aeronautical use would be appropriate for that location,” he added.

The 20-year future for the airport, McDonnell forecasted, will be fueled by corporate aviation.

“With single- and light multi-engine aircraft, we’re not showing any growth at Bridgeport,” he said. “We’re showing it being stable but not going up. We are showing strong growth in the business aircraft. Turbo-prop aircraft and jet aircraft is where we’re showing strong growth at Bridgeport.”

The airport’s current total operational activity (takeoffs and landings) is roughly 50,000 and the 20-year forecast bumps that up to roughly 60,000, which would equal the same activity level from 10 years ago. Also being forecast is an increase from the 150 based aircraft now using the airport to the potential for 181 by 2039, which McDonnell admitted would be “modest growth.” But while the forecast is on the mild side, McDonnel nonetheless called for upgrades to the airport’s taxiways and parking aprons to better accommodate this new activity.

“We think there is growth in aviation, particularly in the business market, and we wanted to make sure we’d accommodate that activity if it comes to Bridgeport,” he said.

The working paper draft omitted a reference to a pair of potential revenue streams. McDonnell acknowledged the absence of consideration of cargo flight activity by explaining that “we don’t expect cargo to become significant that we would need a cargo facility at the Bridgeport airport.”

Also absent from the paper was the possible return of scheduled commercial air flights, which ceased operating at the airport in 1999. McDonnell noted the airport has no terminal to accommodate passenger arrivals and departures, and the creation of a new terminal could either take place at the aforementioned open 25-acre space or by converting an existing hangar. McDonnell also highlighted that no airline has made any overture to use the airport for commercial flights, and the facility’s size would probably best accommodate smaller aircraft serving regional flights to Northeast markets.

“If something like this could happen at Bridgeport again, we would probably see 5,000 to 6,000 operations a year,” he said. “We don’t expect it to be ever more than 10% of the activity level you experience at the airport.”

McDonnell’s presentation did not come with specific price recommendations. “Forecasts like this assume there are no restrictions,” he said. “If you need new hangars, you can build a new hangar, and if you need new parking spaces and maintain runways you can build them.”