Mayor-elect Luke Bronin has said he wants to explore economic development opportunities in the city’s South Meadows, among other places, a step that is likely to revive a discussion of the future of Brainard Airport.
With the city’s unemployment rate the highest in the state, Mr. Bronin is right to make jobs a top priority and to put everything on the table. The more effort and imagination that can be applied to job creation, the better. The question with the Brainard property is how it will best serve the city’s economy.
We think its highest and best use is as an airport, but with better marketing and a higher profile.
For at least three decades, off and on, Hartford politicians have toyed with the idea of trying to close the historic 201-acre airport and using the land for some kind of economic development. It might be illustrative to look at why that hasn’t happened.
Brainard, the state’s busiest general aviation airport, is designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as a “reliever airport,” which, as the name suggests, means it is to relieve congestion at commercial service airports such as Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.
Were Brainard to close, some of its general and corporate traffic would presumably move to Bradley, adding congestion at a time when the Connecticut Aviation Authority is trying to expand commercial service at the larger airport.
According to its most recent business plan from 2012, about 15 percent of Brainard’s air operations are corporate. Corporations like the in-town airport for time-sensitive delivery and transport of key personnel.
Brainard has accepted FAA funds to upgrade the facility. Were it to close, grants would have to be returned. That would be about $4 million today and $9 million by 2019, according to the Connecticut Airport Authority, which owns the airport.
Brainard is an economic engine, if not exactly a Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1000G. The airport employs about 160 people, two-thirds of them full time, at more than a dozen aviation-related businesses, and has an overall economic impact of $44.9 million, according to the business plan. The state police helicopter is based at Brainard, Hartford Health Care’s Life Star helicopter uses the airport, and it is the site of Connecticut Aero Tech, a state vocational training school for aircraft mechanics.
And yet it seems like a well-kept secret, stuck off by itself, hard to get to, not well signed, known only to the aviation community. We’ve heard of people who’ve gotten to Brainard thinking it was Bradley.
Perhaps this relative anonymity is because the city has never, at least in recent memory, embraced, promoted and marketed the airport.
For example, state law allows for the creation of airport development zones around airports. These extend enterprise-zone tax incentives to manufacturers and related businesses that acquire or develop property in the zone and that create jobs.
Bradley has such a zone, and so does Waterbury-Oxford, but not Brainard-Hartford. It should. There is developable land near Brainard, with easy access to the highway as well as the airport.
Also, the airport should be promoted for special events. Pro golfers use it for the Travelers Championship. In 2007 and 2011, the city, the Connecticut Convention Center and Brainard hosted the annual three-day summit of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, many of whom live within easy flying distance.
This is the time to get the airport on the front burner, in part because the airport authority is effecting a land swap with the Metropolitan District Commission that will allow a slight expansion of the main runway, thus allowing slightly larger jets to land there.
An urban airport is an asset that cannot be easily replicated. Let’s use it to boost our urban economy.