Pols Divided On Decision
The Connecticut Department of Transportation announced its
approval this week of plans to expand the Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial
Airport in Stratford, after many years of opposition from the city
-- in a deal made in a conference call with the DOT, Bridgeport
officials and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Expansion plans of the airport, which is owned by the city of
Bridgeport, include rebuilding the main runway and creating a
safety zone near the current blast fence at the east end of the
runway. Stratford's Main Street will have to be relocated to
complete the multi-million dollar project.
"Stratford has been very non-responsive when it comes to this
safety issue," Airport Manager John Ricci said. "I'm happy that the
state is finally pulling the trigger. It has been a long time
coming and it has created a huge liability for the taxpayers of the
city of Bridgeport."
Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi said Stratford Mayor James R.
Miron has been given "ample opportunity" to join in the
Fabrizi and Ricci both insist there are no plans to lengthen the
main runway, just to rebuild it -- addressing the 'longer runways
equal larger aircraft' fears.
"There will not be one inch of increase in the length of the
runway," Fabrizi said. "This is strictly for safety and liability.
It will also allow us to reconstruct the runway, which is in dire
need of repair."
But Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford
said Tuesday he was going to attempt to create legislation to
require the town's approval for the project, according to The
"I don't want some bureaucrats in Newington (DOT headquarters)
making unilateral decisions," Backer said, after he was informed
the DOT's decision.
Ricci contends the safety zone is an important attraction that
is necessary to lure in more corporate jets to help defray the
airport's $1.5 million annual operating budget.
"The project from its inception was primarily to reconstruct the
runway which is nearly at the end of its serviceable life," Ricci
said. He emphasized the fact the in order to get FAA money one must
play by FAA rules and adapt to its regulations.
As far as funding goes, he's anticipating 90 percent from the
FAA, 7.5 percent from the state and 2.5 percent from the city of
Not everyone agrees BDR needs
expanding. Rep. Lawrence G. Miller, R-Stratford,
believes the project is unnecessary because the "vast majority" of
airport crashes can be attributed to human error, usually related
to flying in inclement weather... referring to a 1994 Piper Navajo
Chieftain crash that killed eight people.
The FAA report on this accident listed the cause as pilot error,
but a mitigating factor was the lack of a safety zone. According to
the report, "the destruction of the airplane and the resulting
occupant injuries were a direct result of the collision with the
blast fence." The report further stated, "The fatalities were
caused by the presence of the non-frangible blast fence and the
absence of a safety area at the end of the runway."
"If this (safety zone) had been erected back in 1994, they would
never have hit the blast fence and now the blast fence is coming
down," Fabrizi said.
The realignment of Main Street -- State Route 113 -- would allow
for an expanded safety zone at the east end of the main runway, the
site of the 1994 accident.
"The airport does not make money," Miller said. "The runways are
tight, it's by the water and there are many incidents of fog. They
should just keep it for recreational fliers."
There are currently about 220 planes based at BDR and each year
it sees some 130,000 air operations each year.
"This (expansion) would definitely make it more attractive to
corporate aircraft," Ricci said. "Our future is not with commercial
aviation in terms of air carriers. They went from smaller turbo
props to regional jets, which need the longer runways." BDR's main
runway is only 4,800 feet long.
Richard J. Jaworski, the DOT's bureau chief of airports and
ports, said the plans for the roadwork on Main Street have actually
been developing for more than a year.
"The roadway is being realigned for the minimum amount necessary
for the minimum safety requirements of the FAA," he said.
The cost of the road's reconfiguration is estimated at around $4
million. A bonus result of the move will be flooding alleviation in
a flood-prone area where the airport meets the road. Ricci said
this section of road was completely closed for several days
following a nor'easter in April.
Ricci said he plans to meet with state DOT and FAA officials to
review the exact distance the roadway would be diverted, timeline
and budget as well as who will take the lead and notes that since
Main Street is a state road, the DOT has jurisdiction.
Jaworsky said the DOT has requested the city of Stratford's
participation in the roadwork planning, but has, so far, been
"We initially wanted to get the parties together and be
informed, to make sure people understand the current proposals, but
the representatives in Stratford have been busy," Jaworski said.
"It's a busy time of the year for everybody."
According to Ricci, a bill was introduced in the state's General
Assembly this year that would have given control of the 97-year-old
airport to the state. He credits the bill with breaking the
bureaucratic delays in the project's approval process.
Rep. Robert T. Keeley, Jr., D-Bridgeport initiated the
legislation and said he wishes the bill had progressed in the
session, which ends next week.
"I still want the state to take over the airport," Keeley said.
"But this is a nice start and I think my legislation brought the
whole issue into focus, so it served its purpose. You can't have
one little neighborhood stop a whole region forever."