Rebranding boosts city’s airport

MERIDEN — Efforts are underway to rebrand Meriden-Markham Airport and to revive the often-forgotten facility. City leaders and airport stakeholders have banded together to help bring additional funds to the airport for large- and small-scale improvements.

“For way too long the airport hasn’t received the attention it needs,” City Councilor Cathy Battista said during a meeting at the airport Wednesday night. “What happens here will have an economic impact on what goes on in the city. Not everybody believes that, but it will happen.”

Battista is among those who helped organize a rebranding of the airport, with the unveiling Wednesday night of a new logo and a new website: It was also announced that the airport will host a fly-in that could bring numerous planes to the municipal airport.

The airport was in poor shape when it was taken over in 2011, said city Purchasing Officer Wilma Petro, who doubles as the city’s administrator for the airport.

“There were illegal oil and fuel tanks where we couldn’t even get fuel so we had to get new pumps,” Petro said. “There were actual holes in the floors ... I’m glad there are renovations being made and there have been investments.”

Some of the airport’s problems involved its former operator, Meriden Aviation Group. The city opted not to renew the company’s contract in 2010 after the operator failed to meet benchmarks, did not pay for snow removal, and left an empty fuel tank. In 2012, the city paid $72,000 to fill the tank and has since been marketing it as a cheaper alternative to many fueling stations in the region.

The city has seen investment in the airport over the last few years with the help of federal funding. Because funding is often difficult to come by, Battista said, there will be an added effort to raise funds and direct them straight to the airport. Funding was secured for a new hangar and a structure to house snow-removal equipment and other maintenance items. A new fuel station has been installed, along with runway lights, and the administration building has been aesthetically improved.

The fuel is priced lower than at most other airports in the area and can be purchased with debit or credit cards, which has drawn people from around the Northeast.

“We have seen a lot of people fly in from Long Island,” said Constance Castillo, the airport manager. “Gas is a dollar or two cheaper here than it is in that area, so a lot of the flight schools come up here.”

To raise funds for the airport, the City Council Finance Committee supported a resolution this week that would create an airport reserve fund. Any funds raised for the airport will be put in the fund and only be used for airport-related events and improvements.

The fly-in event is scheduled for Oct. 18 to show off the airport and help raise funds. Pilots from around the state and region will be invited to fly their planes to Meriden-Markham for the day. They will be able to show off their aircrafs, view others and take part in activities.

“We hope this will draw people in from out of town and out of state so they can see Meriden as a place to go,” Battista said.

State Reps. Hilda Santiago and Catherine F. Abercrombie were enthusiastic about the airport and said they could seek state funds to help make improvements.

Petro said she is optimistic a flight school could be run out of the administration building soon and a charter flight business could also be on its way.

“That would be great for two new businesses here in Meriden,” Petro said. (203) 317-2266 Twitter: @DanBrechlinRJ

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