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November 21, 2022 Economic Development Series: Week 3

With new customs facility, hangar expansion, Waterbury-Oxford Airport aims for higher profile


Once owned by a private pilot who made his hobby of flying single-engine planes a business, the Waterbury-Oxford Airport has grown expeditiously since it opened for public use in 1969, and is in the midst of a major expansion that includes the recent opening of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office to service international flights.

California-based aircraft management company Clay Lacy Aviation is also undertaking a multiphase construction, expansion and renovation project. The $20-million first phase will feature a passenger terminal, executive offices and 40,000-square-foot hangar, which will accommodate more aircraft and allow maintenance to occur indoors. 

The new full-service, fixed-based operator and maintenance facility is expected to create hundreds of high-paying jobs and be completed in the spring of 2024, according to Buddy Blackburn, Clay Lacy’s senior vice president.

“We are talking about more than 200 jobs that will be added,” Blackburn said, noting they will run the gamut from maintenance workers to management positions.

Clay Lacy Aviation President and CEO Brian Kirkdoffer, facing forward, at the aircraft management company’s existing Waterbury-Oxford Airport hangar facility.

Local officials hope that recent growth initiatives will raise Waterbury-Oxford Airport’s profile, making it a stronger regional economic driver and more attractive to charter flights from abroad. 

Besides Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Waterbury-Oxford is the only other Connecticut airfield with an on-site customs facility, which means international flights can fly directly into the airport. 

“We’ve been working (on having a customs facility) at Waterbury-Oxford Airport for years,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, which owns Waterbury-Oxford Airport. “This raises the profile of the airport. We’ve been hearing from a number of private operators how desirable it is to not have to go to two airports. There are additional maintenance costs for each stop you make. It’s a cost-saving, convenience and time issue. It will also attract other (international) aircraft that are not based there today.”

International flights

Waterbury-Oxford, located on Christian Street in the western Connecticut town of Oxford, is a general aviation airport primarily used for corporate, business and recreational charter flight operations. It consists of a single, 5,800-foot long asphalt runway — the second largest in the state, behind Bradley’s 10,000-foot runway. 

Dillon said Waterbury-Oxford’s main international users fly in from Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom and Caribbean islands, and the customs facility has already led to increased traffic.

The airport is projecting over 39,000 passengers this year, which would be up from 38,043 in 2021 and 33,599 in 2020, according to CAA data.

“We are getting several (international) flights a week and we are expecting, over time, that number will continue to increase,” Dillon said.

Clay Lacy provides various services at Waterbury-Oxford Airport, including aircraft maintenance.

Its expansion, which will be financed via private funds, aims to help Clay Lacy better market its services and entice new businesses to the airport, Blackburn said.

Clay Lacy broke ground on the project’s first phase in August. A second, $20-million phase would add an additional 80,000 square feet of hangar and office space, Blackburn said, but there is no timetable on when that may happen. 

Underutilized asset

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said he sees significant growth opportunities for the airport and the land surrounding it. 

Neil O'Leary

He said he’s working to get neighboring towns, including Naugatuck and Oxford, to help with efforts to better promote the airport via their membership in the Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corp., which promotes a regional approach to economic development. The entity was created by the mayors of Naugatuck and Waterbury and has since added other Naugatuck Valley communities.

“I believe we need to do things regionally instead of operating in our own individual silos,” O’Leary said. “Now, with the expanded use of the airport, this all fits perfectly together. This is, quite frankly, a very good opportunity to promote an untapped resource.”

There is also a lot of underutilized land in the airport’s immediate vicinity, O’Leary said, that could offer development opportunities. 

That land sits in an Airport Development Zone that offers tax abatements and incentives for airport development.

O’Leary noted, for example, there are some manufacturing companies located in close proximity to the airport and that other similar businesses might want to be located nearby.

According to the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), seven businesses have benefited from the airport’s development zone since it was established in 2014. Two companies in the last year — Metropolitan Interactive and Anvil CT — have qualified for tax breaks to grow their presence there.

Metropolitan Interactive is a women-owned business with offices in Connecticut, New York, West Virginia and Nebraska. It develops immersive digital environments and entertainment systems in public and private spaces. Anvil CT provides welding and fabrication services for residential homes, commercial businesses and municipalities.

Oxford Economic Development Director Jeffrey Luff said the area around the airport is industrial zoned “so we are looking for companies that are growing in light manufacturing that appreciate the town’s low mill rate (23 mills) and rural environment and can provide quality jobs for our town.”

Luff has already stepped up marketing efforts of the airport in recent years. He introduced YouTube videos in 2020 to promote the airport to residents and businesses looking to relocate to Oxford.

More marketing will help grow the airport’s appeal, officials said.

“The videos introduce Oxford as a whole to those watching,” Luff said. “The videos include information on our schools, our sports programs and our airport. We want people to know that we have an industrial area, we have golf courses where you can entertain; we’ve got good restaurants and — to top it off — we have this great airport.”

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