DOT Connecticut Airport Study a 'Reality Check'

Oct. 12--The state Department of Transportation said it's only a coincidence that it is currently seeking a consultant to review the plans of six Connecticut airports while several companies are promising to bring air taxi service to the region's smaller airports.

Richard Jaworski, the DOT's aviation and ports bureau chief, said Tuesday the department wants to conduct a study of the six state-owned airports, including Waterbury-Oxford Airport, to make sure businesses have equal opportunities to set up services and that the public has access to the airports. Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford is owned by the city of Bridgeport and will not be part of the DOT study.

According to the invitation for bids issued Tuesday, the consultant will look at each airport and what types of services it offers and should offer, including fueling, plane storage, maintenance and passenger and freight options. The study will compare standards being used at airports in other states, he said. Prospective consultants have until Oct. 24 to get their bids in, but the DOT couldn't say when it would hire somebody.

"It's a reality check with what's going on nationwide," Jaworski said of the need for a consultant.

What's going on in the nation is that several air taxi and chartered service companies have started to pop up, flying among smaller airports and using planes that generally seat less than 10 people.

There are such services in Ohio, South Carolina and Massachusetts.

Air taxi services will allow people to book flights much as someone would book a car service, and should cost less than current charter services, which rely on larger planes and must burn more fuel.

SATSair of South Carolina said people can book a flight an hour in advance in its service territory.

Linear Air of Massachusetts has been flying eight-passenger planes in the Northeast since August 2004.

"It's going very well," said Dan Lynch, Linear's director of corporate sales.

The company is a hybrid between chartered service and fixed route, he said. Today, it starts a new service, flying between Bedford, Mass., and White Plains, N.Y., according to the company's Web site.

The company sells single-seat deals on its fixed routes on a sliding scale, meaning the more people who fly in the plane, the lower the cost.

The price of a charter depends on a number of factors, including distance and fuel consumption, Lynch said, adding that the company has flown into Connecticut airports.

There are at least two other companies that have expressed interest in providing air taxi service in the Northeast.

Michael O'Donnell, Waterbury-Oxford Airport's manager, said he expects regional airports like his will experience a lot more activity in coming years.

That should be good news for the state's economy.

Waterbury-Oxford is updating its master plan, and O'Donnell said an economic study showed the airport creates tens of millions of dollars for the region through jobs and services. A meeting on the master plan will be held next Tuesday, he said.

Tim Brady, a pilot who flies out of Sikorsky Memorial Airport, agreed with O'Donnell, and said the main reason smaller planes and airports will flourish is because they will save travel time.

Security measures adopted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have created longer lines and waits at major airports across the nation.

When Brady flies out of larger airports, he said, he has to leave at least three hours before his flight to make sure he can negotiate the lines.

"How long of a line can you have when the plane only seats 15?" Brady said.

O'Donnell and Brady dismissed a recent study by the Urban Land Institute that advocated closing Sikorsky Airport to make way for an office park. ULI was invited to the city to study ways to revitalize Bridgeport and in April made a number of recommendations. City officials are debating many of those proposals, but they rejected closing the airport.

But pilot Morgan Kaolian, who operates aerial the photography company AEROPIX and is a former Sikorsky airport manager, was upset by the ULI's suggestion and said he couldn't understand it.

He said airports should be viewed like any other transportation center: as a vital part of economic development. An airport creates jobs, and many corporations that need fast access to private jets view small airports as vital assets.

"Think of it as a bus depot, a rail station, a port," Kaolian said.

"The fact that we have it in our own back yard is fantastic."


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