First Word: Saving an Airport: Educate the Irrational

That’s the least of the chores at hand. A woman who lives in Wethersfield, Connecticut, said she was nearly mowed down by a low-flying airplane when she was walking her dog. It was flying so low, she claimed, the pair had to duck. And so goes one piece of the buffoonery that doesn’t help the fight to save the Hartford Brainard Airport in Connecticut from closing as a political land battle intensifies. If you’ve flown to or around New England there’s a good chance you’ve been to Brainard, which sits on the western bank of the Connecticut River, and roughly 10 south of Bradley International Airport. It’s got some quirks you might remember from your first time coming in, with centerline-offset instrument approaches (including an LDA) that keep some aircraft approaching from the south away from the terrified dog-walkers in the neighboring town of Old Wethersfield. There’s also the big closed runway at the adjacent Pratt & Whitney headquarters across the river to the north, which has fooled more than one transient into thinking it was Brainard’s runway they were landing on. Quirks and all, Brainard has been a staple on the aeronautical charts since 1921. Early 20th century arrivals included Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Pages and pages could be and have been written about the place’s history, and plenty more could be written about why it’s on the chopping block. The threat is hardly new, but it’s more real and complicated than ever. 

Part of Brainard’s recent history includes louder political discussions of closing it, scuttle that’s been in the background since I moved to the field in 1993. The Metropolitan District Commission, the regional water and sewer authority, has been eyeballing the field for years. One argument is that the airport’s roughly 200 acres would be better suited for tax-collecting prime real estate. But those of us who call the place home use the term loosely, and know the land is best served by an airport and certainly not home to condos and posh shopping. Would you want to build a home surrounded by trash facilities, a sewer treatment plant and a busy industrial park? Yet last year the Hartford City Council passed a non-binding resolution calling for the airport’s shutdown in favor of a huge residential, entertainment and retail redevelopment project. Political agendas and redevelopmental smoke and mirrors aside, plenty of locals want to see the airport closed, and until the discussion went more public, some of them didn’t even know there was an airport in the city of Hartford. Sitting in some of the virtual meetings for public comments, it was clear that some of them are completely berserk in learning of the tree trimming that’s desperately needed to keep the approaches on both ends of the main runway clean. “The rich guys with the jets want to take our trees away.” 

Meanwhile, even if the field doesn’t close there are other issues going on. The city of Hartford has been stalling on that $1 million tree-trimming project and it’s creating a safety issue, particularly on the visual approach to runway 20. The city owns a 40-acre tract of land to the north of the Runway 20 approach end, plus the trees on the south end of the runway. In fact, if you precisely fly the vertical visual approach guidance that’s built into some avionics systems’ databases, you’ll find that the outdated calculated slope angle puts you pretty close to the top of the brush. Eventually as the trees continue to grow, the slope angle will need to be recalculated, displacing the threshold and shortening the usable runway from the current 4414 feet. Brainard also has a seasonal turf runway.   

Brainard’s fate is anyone’s guess at this point, but airport residents aren’t sitting it out. With input from AOPA, a group has organized the Hartford Brainard Airport Association. This is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) corporation with a seven-member executive board to promote the airport and among other things, try and educate the irrational who want to see the place closed. There are good reasons to promote it because there are jobs at stake. The tower-controlled Brainard Airport is home to two busy flight schools, two busy and well-respected maintenance shops, an avionics shop, an aero technical school, an established FBO with fuel farms and charter ops, plus it’s home to a resident AME, an aircraft insurance brokerage company, Connecticut State Police aviation, U.S. Homeland Security, Civil Air Patrol and it has an active EAA chapter. It’s also home to Aviation Consumer’s editorial offices, where many of our product and flight trials are staged.

As with saving any airfield it’s all about support in numbers, and the Hartford Brainard Airport Association needs support. Want to help or stay informed? Reach out to the association at [email protected]. —Larry Anglisano

Editor in Chief Larry Anglisano has been a staple at Aviation Consumer since 1995. An active land, sea and glider pilot, Larry has over 30 years’ experience as an avionics repairman and flight test pilot. He’s the editorial director overseeing sister publications Aviation Safety magazine, IFR magazine and is a regular contributor to KITPLANES magazine with his Avionics Bootcamp column.