The Sikorsky Memorial Airport Commission voted on Thursday to move forward with plans to sell the airport to the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) for $10 million, the maximum amount the city could retain from a sale of the airport as established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which states that no entity can pay more for the airport than what has been lost by Bridgeport.
The airport serves business, charter and private flights but has been considering the return to commercial passenger flights. The airport currently has an annual operating deficit of about $500,000.
As for the $10 million sale price, it is contingent upon Bridgeport being able to prove under FAA guidelines that the city over the years has spent that much out of its operating budget, excluding airport revenues, to keep Sikorsky running.
The FAA has invested a significant amount of money into Sikorsky, which has prevented Bridgeport from simply selling off the facility and realizing a profit. Proceeds from current leases and fees are reinvested back into the airport.
A recent study commissioned by Bridgeport and airport tenants Atlantic Aviation and Three Wing Aviation concluded a new passenger terminal would cost at least $15 million, but that the airport could produce millions in revenue for the state through taxes and fees, as well as provide jobs and attract other businesses.
Kevin Dillon, Executive Director of CAA, has committed to administering more than $60 million of improvements to the airport, with the goal of restoring commercial service. The commission will now forward the CAA’s term sheet — a framework for negotiations — for the sale of the airport to the Bridgeport City Council.
Dillon recognized the significant investment the airport may need to be fully utilized to bring it up to commercial passenger standards. He quoted the figure at around $62 million in total facility investment.
“We believe Sikorsky airport, unfortunately, is currently underutilized and underdeveloped,” Dillon said. “We believe, as the airport authority here at the state, there’s a real opportunity to invest in the airport and develop the airport. Certainly, for enhanced general aviation service, but I think also for commercial passenger service as well.”
During Thursday’s meeting, the commission heard presentations from both the CAA and the town of Stratford over the sale of the airport before ultimately voting in favor of the CAA, with Mayor Laura Hoydick — the only town official on the commission — the lone vote against. Hoydick was accompanied by State Senator Kevin Kelly, who she introduced as the Town Attorney.
Both Hoydick and Kelly announced in March “If the City of Bridgeport is interested in selling the airport, then it is the time for the Town of Stratford to take ownership of the Sikorsky Memorial Airport. We will ensure capable management commensurate with the concerns of the region and surrounding community, and the sensitive environmental assets located there. The future of Stratford and the future of the airport are intertwined, and Stratford would like the fair and proper opportunity to direct this shared destiny.”
According to Hoydick the intention of the town was to purchase the airport and lease it out to a professional operator, Stratford’s bid for the airport was $13 million.
The CAA wants to see the property developed, and in a statement on Thursday, Dillon stated that the goal of the CAA is for economic development for state and municipalities.
After the meeting, Hoydick questioned the legality of the process following the vote. “It’s unfortunate that the airport commission didn’t vote to advance Stratford to the city council to purchase the airport,” Hoydick said. “I’m not really sure if this process was legal. It does not seem to me that there was any kind of formal proposal process and I would have thought that we, as the body, would have followed the governor’s lead — what he suggested that we do a public RFP (request for proposal). But that was not the way that this was proposed.”
It should be noted that the discussion and presentations by CAA and Hoydick/Kelly were very transparent and open to members of the public who were present at the meeting (which was held via Zoom). Though listed on the Commission agenda as (Executive Session) Airport Sale/Discussion/Vote .
Hoydick questioned why the presentations were done in public when the agenda listed it for a private executive session (which is used extensively by the Stratford Town Council) — a point of multiple discussions during the meeting. One of Hoydick’s talking points about the sale was transparency.
Stratford’s presentation, given by state Sen. Kevin Kelly, who represents Stratford in the legislature, proposed the transfer of ownership of the airport to the town at a price up to $13 million with the option of entering into an agreement with an airport operator.
Stratford’s intention was to develop commercial passenger service to the airport similar to how Tweed New Haven Airport has created its service in that city.
Airport Commission member Kenneth Flatto, who is the finance director in Bridgeport, said he voted for the CAA since “its primary job is to manage airports and to make them work for the public benefit.” He said also said he was “somewhat concerned” with Stratford’s intention to seek a “public-private partnership” with an operator.
Kelly noted that Stratford would own the airport in its entirety and the operator would be hired by the town and it would not own any portion of the airport.
Stratford’s proposal also included the creation of a Stratford Airport Commission, in which Bridgeport would have had at least one member. It was then raised to two Bridgeport members following further discussion.
Hoydick asked that a stipulation in the sale agreement with the CAA include a clause disallowing the CAA from use of eminent domain to absorb additional land for the extension of the airport or the runway following the vote. Dillon said that the CAA has no intention to use eminent domain for this use following his presentation. Hoydick seemed satisfied that Dillon had made this statement on record.
He also said that CAA has an opportunity to work with an airline carrier that has expressed interest in the property should CAA become the operator there. While the carrier was not identified, it is believed that it was Breeze Airways, a Utah-based airline company focused on “new nonstop flights and lower fares at smaller cities such as Bridgeport (and) routes ignored by other larger airlines
Both State Representatives Joe Gresko and Phil Young had suggested that if Stratford was selected to purchase Sikorsky that a town wide referendum be conducted to see if in fact the residents of Stratford were in favor of the purchase.