Saturday, August 13, 2011

In a holding pattern: Danbury Municipal Airport (KDXR), Connecticut.

Michael Safranek, assistant administrator at Danury Airport, shows the need to repair taxiway C at the Danbury Airport on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011.
Photo: Jason Rearick / CT

Original Article and Photos:
DANBURY -- For decades, Danbury Municipal Airport has served as an integral part of the area's transportation system.

And while many argue the facility serves as a powerful economic generator for Greater Danbury, little revenue has been derived from the airport to help fill city coffers.

In fact, the airport just about breaks even.

Mayor Mark Boughton recently announced the formation of a task force to study the airport, the benefits the facility provides to the community and ways to generate additional revenue for the city.

Boughton has suggested the task force also examine privatizing the facility as a way to provide additional dollars for the city.

Some industry officials argue privatization isn't the way to go, but there is a tremendous amount of potential growth in the airport's future.

Dean Saucier, regional representative of the National Business Aviation Association, said privatization has been attempted at airports throughout the U.S., but has never actually been successful.

"It's a very, very difficult avenue to go down," he said, noting the move would require approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"A lot of people have tried it, but there has yet to be an airport in the country that has gone private," Saucier said. "On the surface, it looks promising, but when you put pencil to paper, it's not all that appealing."

Wayne Toher, of Reliant Air, cautioned that privatizing the airport could result in a loss of federal funding for improvements to the airport.

Within the past couple of years, the airport has received about $1 million from the FAA to repair and repave the intersection of the two runways. There is also more than $750,000 in the works for repairs to two sections of the airport's taxiways.

The local match required to receive federal funding is less than 2 percent, said Michael Safranek, assistant airport administrator.

Saucier said that while privatization may not work in Danbury, there is growing interest from aviation operators to have a site in western Connecticut to expand their businesses.

"We are always hearing from our members in New York that if there was only a better place for them to operate in Connecticut, they would love to do that," Saucier said.

Westchester Airport, he said, is quickly reaching capacity, as are Waterbury-Oxford Airport and others in the region.

"I know of a number of Connecticut operators who base their planes out of Westchester," Saucier said. "It's more expensive, but they have two fully dedicated instrument landing systems."

While Danbury has a limited instrument landing system, improving it doesn't necessarily mean the operators will come to this side of the border, he said.

"Also critical is whether someone can use the airport without having a tremendous amount of people complaining about their operations," he said.

"Airports are great economic generators and these (aviation company) operators can bring lots of well paying jobs, but the operations do create some noise," Saucier said. "It really comes down to how friendly the community is and how willing the city is to help people who want to come here."

There are several ways Danbury gets revenue from the airport, including leasing property to businesses that operate there and permit fees and fuel flowage fees of 12 cents per gallon, which operators say is already one of the highest prices in the region and adds about $58,000 annually to city coffers.

The only way to increase revenue, local operators said, is to lease more property and attract additional traffic to the airport.

Toher said if the city reduces its fuel flowage fee, which he said is the highest in the state, it may attract more traffic.

"The more fuel we pump, the more money the city makes, without having to do anything more than they already do now," he said.

While some industry officials say expanding the runway could generate more traffic for the airport, officials say that isn't likely to happen.

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said residents in his town, as well as Danbury residents who live near the airport, would likely object to runway expansions.

"Residents would vehemently object to expanding the runway because it could increase the traffic," he said.

While Marconi commends Boughton for initiating the task force and said the airport is a true asset to the region, he added, "in general, any increase in traffic would be a detriment to the people of Ridgefield and those in Danbury around Wooster Mountain."

Of course, there is always the thought that "if you don't like airplane noise, you shouldn't live near an airport," Marconi said. "These are things people should take into consideration when buying a home."

However, speaking for the town of Ridgefield, he said, "We are very concerned about any increase of traffic at the airport."

Traffic at the airport has decreased significantly in recent decades.

According to Safranek, there were as many as 190,000 movements -- takeoffs and landings -- per year at the airport during the heyday of the 1970s, driven by a post-Vietnam GI bill that paid for flight lessons.

But the high cost of flying, not to mention the price of gas and the economic conditions in the past several years, reduced traffic to about 77,000 movements last year.

Toher, who runs a charter operation out of Reliant, said his traffic has already increased more than 20 percent compared to last year.

Safranek and airport administrator Paul Estefan said they support Boughton's proposal to develop the task force.

"The airport is an integral part of the Greater Danbury community and needs to be a viable entity for the city and the taxpayers," Safranek said.

"In these economic times, evaluating all of the city's resources and assets can only make Danbury an ever-stronger economic engine for the future of our community."

Original Article and Photos:

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