From: Connecticut Post Online, August 7, 2009
The Best Solution For Bridgeport and Stratford, By: Rep. Lawrence G. Miller
As long as Bridgeport remains the sole owner of Sikorsky Memorial Airport, the more likely it is that the city’s civil war with Stratford over the facility’s future will get even nastier and bloodier.
Since the airport is located entirely within Stratford’s borders and the town and its taxpayers gain few tangible benefits from the arrangement, it should come as no surprise to Bridgeport’s elected officials that Stratford residents are suspicious about proposals to improve safety at the facility that look like stealth plans to expand the runways or move Main Street.
If Bridgeport does not have a hidden agenda when it insists its only goal is to improve safety conditions — not expand the airport to accommodate large aircraft — the most effective way of allaying Stratford’s concerns would be to sell the town a 50 percent share in the ownership of the facility — a proposal I have discussed with Mayor Bill Finch.
Given the fact that Bridgeport, like many municipalities across Connecticut, is experiencing serious financial problems because of the recession, and is doing its best to rein in spending and balance the city’s budget, selling Stratford a half interest in the airport also makes good financial sense.
Legal expenses and the day-to-day cost of operating Sikorsky Airport that have made the facility a money-loser make the proposition even more attractive.
Making Stratford an equal partner in the ownership and operation of the airport would give the town a vested interest in its success, encouraging both municipalities to work together to enhance the airport’s attractiveness to regional air carriers and bring more revenues into both communities.
The recent crash of a small airplane at Sikorsky strengthened the credibility of Bridgeport officials’ claim that the non-fatal accident graphically demonstrated the need for “safety” improvements to the airfield and lent urgency to their demand Stratford drop its opposition to the upgrades.
Could the accident have been prevented had an “Engineered Materials Arresting System” (a specially prepared surface that crumbles under the heavy weight of an airplane when it skids off a runway) been in place at the end of the runway? Probably not, since it occurred during dense fog that significantly obscured visibility.
Knowing the airfield was socked in by heavy fog, the pilot should have diverted to another airport rather than attempting to land under less than optimal conditions at Sikorsky Airport.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, “Human error is oftentimes involved in the chain of events leading to an accident. Indeed, over 80 percent of aircraft accidents involve some form of human error.”
The FAA also notes that of the 17 aircraft accidents that have occurred over the past 15 years, seven took place during bad weather such as heavy fog or haze and that most occur at night.
Had an Engineered Materials Arresting System been in place when the June 12 accident at Sikorsky occurred, it probably would have limited the damage to the aircraft, but it would not have prevented the crash.
Stratford officials correctly point out that if the airfield was truly dangerous, the Federal Aviation Administration already would have shut it down. They also note that safety improvements, including construction of an EMAS, can be accomplished within the airport’s existing boundaries.
Although the issue seems as far from being resolved as ever, there is a way out of the impasse.
With the state pushing harder than ever to promote regional cooperation to consolidate redundant local services to improve efficiency and ease the burden on local property taxpayers, the time is ripe for Bridgeport and Stratford to come together on a plan for joint ownership of Sikorsky Memorial Airport.
Selling Stratford a 50 percent share in the ownership of the airfield will give the town a compelling reason to work with Bridgeport to make the facility a viable economic asset for both communities — and go a long way toward allaying the resentment and suspicion toward Bridgeport that has built up among Stratford residents over 40 years of feuding over Sikorsky Memorial Airport.
State Rep. Lawrence G. Miller represents the 122nd District, which includes Shelton and Stratford.