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Officials Welcome Long-Awaited Reopening Of Runway At Sikorsky Airport

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, left, shakes the hand of a pilot after a flight from Sikorsky Memorial Airport Monday. Officials celebrated the new runway at the airport.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, left, shakes the hand of a pilot after a flight from Sikorsky Memorial Airport Monday. Officials celebrated the new runway at the airport. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Officials celebrated the reopening of a runway and the removal of a blast fence that was blamed for eight deaths in a plane crash at the airport 22 years ago.

Stratford and Bridgeport officials flew in a pair of planes that took off and landed on the new runway, the first planes to do so, just before the noontime celebration Monday.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, who was mayor when that crash occurred, praised the City of Bridgeport-owned airport as an important regional asset.

"This is sorely needed and moves the airport forward for decades and decades to come," Ganim said.

Although owned by Bridgeport, the airport sits on land in Stratford, and the two municipalities have butted heads over the airport. Stratford Mayor John Harkins spoke about those past disputes and said everyone worked together to come to an agreement.

"It just shows that when you put your heads together and act in a reasonable fashion good things can happen," he said.

Runway 6-24 was repaved and equipped with new runway lights. Engineers also included a 300-foot-long EMAS, a paved area made of weak-walled concrete blocks. If an aircraft rolls over it, it collapses to a specified depth, slowing and stopping the plane in a predictable manner and with minimal damage. EMAS ensures a safer landing for aircrafts that overshoot the runway by halting the forward progress. The South Main Street metal blast fence was removed.

It's a safety measure that if in place may have helped save the lives of eight people who died in a fiery crash at the airport on April 27, 1994. A chartered twin-engine Piper hit the blast fence and erupted in flames after the steel fence tore open its fuel tank.

The National Transportation Safety Board largely blamed the pilot for the crash but said the deaths of the pilot and seven of his eight passengers was due to the airport's flawed design.

The EMAS installation required the southern end of Main Street to be reconfigured; this project also elevated the street, thus reducing flooding risks.

Ninety percent of the $46 million project was paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration, with the state and city of Bridgeport evenly splitting the remaining 10 percent.

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