MERIDEN — Meriden-Markham Municipal Airport will receive a $1.4 million grant from the federal government to repave the southern section of its taxiway, the latest in a series of improvements to the municipal airport.
The grant, announced during a press conference Tuesday, will provide funding for the last in a significant series of redevelopment projects at the airport over the last five years, which has seen the airstrip completely repaved, the construction of new hangars for the planes, the installation of new lights, and a state-of-the-art fuel pump.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, discussed the grant during Tuesday’s event alongside Mayor Kevin Scarpati. He praised the airport, citing its central location in the state and continued growth as an investment in the economic prosperity of Meriden.
The funding was awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program and will finish the replacement of the airport’s southern taxiway, which is covered in large cracks and overgrown with weeds.
It is the largest open space on the property where many planes are tied down and has not been redeveloped in over 20 years. Not only will the redevelopment be able to accommodate more planes, 30 tie-downs in total, but it will also improve safety. Construction is expected to begin in the fall.
“Airports are one of the essential links that create connections for businesses in areas like Meriden. They foster and support economic development,” Blumenthal said. “These kinds of regional airports are the lifeblood of air transportation in the United States increasingly … We need more options for aircraft. And so the investment here is in economic development, ease of travel, and safer air transport.”
Blumenthal thanked the FAA and fellow U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, for securing the money for the project.
Constance Castillo, manager of Meriden-Markham Municipal Airport, said that the completion of the project is only the beginning of what they wish to be a larger revitalization of the airport space. Though there is no timeline for further projects, she spoke of a desire to extend their services to build even more hangers to accommodate a growing waitlist.
Castillo, Scarpati, and Blumenthal also expressed hope that as the airport continues to grow, it may attract other businesses, such as a charter service to operate out of the airport — which could fly smaller passenger planes across the state and elsewhere.
“If Meriden isn't ahead of the game, we lose a tremendous opportunity. And so with these funds from the FAA and our continued trajectory to continue building out, we stand a great shot at making sure that Meriden is not only one of several airports, but the airport for Connecticut. And I think that's kind of where we're headed,” Scarpati said.
Over the past several years there have been several closures of smaller airports across the state to utilize the land for other projects, leading Meriden to service more incoming aircraft traffic. And with continued discussions surrounding the potential closure and redevelopment of Hartford’s Brainard Airport, it could leave Meriden with a significant location for aircraft looking to fly centrally into the state.
With the ongoing pilot shortage, in both the military and in the commercial sector, officials also recognized the importance of the Meriden redevelopment for providing a space where students can come to educate themselves about aircraft and get their pilot licenses.
The Experimental Aircraft Association has rented one of the hangers on the property, and last year over 20 students helped complete construction of the group’s own aircraft — which has since flown across the country. To Blumenthal and others, they see it as a valuable step toward expanding the presence and reach of the airport in the community, which they say has so far been understated.
“Until these hangers were built, they didn’t really have a space. They were kind of this lost child that was dependent on decent weather to then depend on how many kids we could have. So the fact that they now have their own space, they can invest, build, learn, and grow like the next generation of pilots,” Scarpati said.
“Producing more pilots is so critical,” Blumenthal added.
“You could look at this $1.4 million as a workforce development and skill training grant — apart from what it’s gonna do in infrastructure.”