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Groton - A consultant has recommended a conservative plan for updating and renovating the Groton-New London Airport over the next 20 years, a reflection of continued forecasts for flat growth in operations.
Ervin C. Deck, a senior aviation planner with Stantec Consulting, outlined an updated master plan at a public meeting Tuesday at the Groton municipal building. It is the last meeting before the plan is finalized.
The plan incorporates several years of technical studies looking at aircraft activity, airport design and concepts for future development that include environmental impact assessments.
Overall, Deck said the airport will need to undergo some modernization, remodeling of the terminal and updates to lighting and maintenance equipment in the coming years. But the runways are in good condition, and the layout of the airport needs no changes, he said.
"If you were going to design one, you couldn't do a better job," Deck said.
Most of the predicted future growth at the airport will come with jets, as the number of single-engine recreational planes continues to dwindle nationwide. Most of that decline is due to rising costs of fuel, Deck said.
"We've seen it here, unfortunately," he said.
He predicted 2 percent overall growth through 2030, from 38,327 take-offs and landings in 2010 to more than 50,000 in 2030. He also suggested that the airport maintain its commercial certification despite the fact that commercial flights ended in 2003. Maintaining certification will keep the door open for a return to commercial flights.
"Be flexible and be ready to jump at the opportunity if it comes up," he said.
Overall, the master plan recommends a phased capital improvement plan costing an estimated $33 million. Most of the costs would come between 2021 and 2030 and would be paid, for the most part, with federal funds.
The master plan does not incorporate information about the airport air traffic control tower, which is slated to close April 21 and is one of more than 140 towers closing nationwide as the result of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration budget.
Local pilot Mark Adams expects the loss of the tower will have an immediate impact on flight times as other airports try to take up the work of granting clearances to take off and land.
"It changes everything as far as how a lot of us fly ... a radical change in a very short period of time," Adams said.
Chet Moore, the airport's air control manager, urged the 20 people in attendance to speak with their legislators in an attempt to halt the closure, which would lead to layoffs and possibly jeopardize pilot safety.
"I hope someone comes through and helps us out," Moore said.
Recreational pilot and plane owner Franz Edison of Niantic said one of the more pressing issues for the airport is that there are simply not a lot of people flying.
"We've got to do something to get more people in here," he said.
One of his suggestions was filling the restaurant space at the airport, which he said would be a draw for pilots.