Just south of the skyline of the city once billed as the insurance capital of the world (and still the home base of many such companies, among others), Hartford-Brainard Airport has a rich history of contribution to the state and local community and economy. A state legislative committee staff report released in December concluded that the airport remains an asset to the city and the state. Legislative staff who wrote the report recommended that the state should not only keep Hartford-Brainard open, but consider increasing investment in it.
Once rivaling the nation’s busiest airports in terms of aircraft movements, many of those helicopter and fixed-wing business flights made by local corporations, Hartford-Brainard Airport remains a valuable and important reliever airport, specifically relieving Bradley International Airport (a few miles north in Windsor Locks) of an estimated 80,000 operations per year that would otherwise be conducted there, AOPA noted in 2016 testimony to the state legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee.
Some lawmakers have begun eyeing airport closure, however. The cash-strapped city’s mayor and the lawmaker who co-chairs the Program Review and Investigations Committee, Sen. John W. Fonfara (D-Hartford), last year plucked a 2006 redevelopment plan off the shelf, eyeing a potential increase in tax revenue if commercial and residential development replaced the 200-acre airport.
Airport supporters including AOPA, airport businesses, and the staff of that legislative committee have noted that while tax revenue from the airport may be well short of what Hartford needs to close its budget gap, the airport offers many other benefits, including 111 jobs (direct employment) at the airport, and $43 million in economic contribution to the state.
The committee report notes that even if the FAA were to waive the city’s obligation to keep the airport open until 2035, it would take decades for redevelopment to proceed, with questionable benefits.
“Redevelopment would demand large public subsidies, and given current fiscal situations, should be approached with caution,” the report states. “Airport closure, environmental remediation, and infrastructure construction would require significant public funds, and probably take 10 to 20 years. Mixed use redevelopment does not appear feasible due to the site’s location and current demand for housing as well as office space. Warehousing and distribution would be the most likely site reuse; however, those jobs are typically low-paying.”
AOPA Manager of Airport Policy Adam Williams noted in his 2016 testimony to the committee that the airport’s value extends beyond the jobs it hosts and its direct economic contributions to the city and state: There are hundreds more jobs made possible by the airport’s presence, and the tax contributions of those workers amount to more than $1.4 million. The airport’s location also puts it in prime position to be invaluable in case of emergency, Williams also noted.
“The advantageous location of Hartford-Brainard enables rapid transit when time is critical such as medical flight services or law enforcement,” Williams said in his written testimony. “The public safety role of Hartford-Brainard cannot be overstated.”
AOPA staff members are closely following developments, and the association will continue to educate lawmakers about the value of this long-serving municipal airport that opened in 1921.