January 8, 2018

Hartford Jet Center targets more Brainard Airport hangars

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
Lindsey Rutka, co-owner of Hartford Jet Center at Hartford-Brainard Airport, would eventually like to build more hangars at the airport to shelter aircraft from the elements.

More hangars are anticipated at Hartford's Brainard Airport, pending negotiations between a company overseeing general aviation services there and the airport's owner/operator, the Connecticut Airport Authority.

Hartford Jet Center is the fixed-base operator at the airport, overseeing its hangars, jet fuel sales, maintenance, flight lessons, charter operations and a restaurant. It has a ground lease with the Airport Authority, which handles field maintenance at Brainard.

"Eventually we would like to build a few more hangars," said Lindsey Rutka, co-owner of the Jet Center with Bob Morande. "Right now, there's a lot of planes that sit out here on the field, that don't have a place to be able to park, to get under the cover."

Number and timing of hangars remain uncertain as the two sides talk. But Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon said he expects there will be some significant hangar development at Brainard.

He suggested more so-called T-hangars, to house smaller aircraft, and box hangars, for larger ones, could be in the offing.

Hartford Jet Center would like to build new T-hangars at the airport, or possibly manage what Rutka said are about 50 association-owned T-hangars, which are similar to a condominium association, but for indoor aircraft storage.

A recent state report noted two aircraft storage condominium associations already exist at Brainard.

Hartford Jet Center currently operates three box hangars at Brainard ranging from 10,000 to 25,000 square feet.

Rutka, of Glastonbury, and Morande, of Wethersfield, acquired the fixed-base operations at the airport in 2015 from Atlantic Aviation, and made various improvements since then. They also co-own Pegasus Air Charter, which has five propeller and jet aircraft; and Windham Airport's fixed-base operations, Windham Air Services; and Horizon Aircraft Services. Windham Airport is another of CAA's five general aviation airports. Rutka also is president/owner of East Hartford's Van Horst General Contractors LLC, which does business as Van Horst Commercial Construction & Maintenance.

Rutka, who speaks for Hartford Jet Center, not the airport, is an enthusiastic supporter of Brainard and its history as the nation's first municipal airport in 1921. The airport was the first stop by Charles Lindbergh and his "Spirit of St. Louis" after his nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, and first test site for nylon parachutes in World War II.

Economic development role

A pilot himself, Rutka sees potential for Brainard to play a greater role in the region's economic development, which is already significant, he said, rattling off private and public uses, including serving corporate clients, medical flights, the Civil Air Patrol and state police.

He also believes the airport is a gateway to introducing more students to careers in high-paying aviation jobs as pilots or aircraft maintenance workers.

"Hartford-Brainard Airport is the heart of our state," proximate to key highways, Rutka said, but still largely "untapped for the most part and we've been opening up the spigot here to encourage people to come in and visit the facility."

There has been talk in the past about redeveloping the 200-acre airport for other uses to generate more tax revenue for Hartford. But a legislative committee in December 2016 recommended the airport's use not change.

The Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee said there was no clear path forward for closing the airport anytime soon and that it helps Connecticut rank in the top 10 states nationwide for general aviation economic contribution, the only New England state to do so. The study estimated Connecticut's general aviation industry supports 30,300 jobs and has an annual economic impact of $3.8 billion.

The report noted that Hartford Jet Center also wants to build — not just renovate — at Brainard.

"It has submitted a proposal to CAA to build indoor aircraft storage space (T-hangar and box hangar)," the report said. "Thinking more long-term, it would like to construct a new building next to the terminal, with a conference center, visitors' center, and restaurant with rooftop seating."

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