Connecticut Airport Keeping Seaplanes on the River

This Connecticut River airport is a popular destination for amphibious aircraft training.

Goodspeed Airport (42B) is in the picturesque community of East Haddam, Connecticut. [Courtesy: Goodspeed Airport]

Goodspeed Airport (42B), which sits on nearly 60 acres along the Connecticut River, is known as a little haven for aviators in eastern Connecticut.

The nearly 60-year-old airport features a 2,100-foot asphalt runway, a 4,500-foot water runway, and several banks of hangars. And in November 2020, new owners took possession of it.

Over the years, there have been several ownership transitions. In 2020, the East Haddam, Connecticut, airport was listed for sale, and two of its own stepped up. Bill McEnery and Eric Zipkin both kept aircraft at Goodspeed and banded together to purchase the airport.

McEnery, the co-owner of a chain of local bike shops, explained how the airport could have ceased to exist following its most recent ownership transition.

"When it came up for sale, it was the classic story of the town wanting to purchase the land—but really having no interest in keeping it an airport," McEnery said. "They wanted it to be open space, parks and that kind of stuff. Actually, prior to Eric and I putting our deal together, I tried explaining to the city how good of an opportunity it would be to keep it as an airport. But fortunately, Eric and I both met and have a common goal."

Just as the airport has been a place of fond memories for McEnery, important parts of Zipkin’s aviation life happened at Goodspeed Airport. 

The Connecticut River sits adjacent to Goodspeed Airport. [Courtesy: Goodspeed Airport]

"I spent one of the most enjoyable summers of my life teaching people how to fly seaplanes here at Goodspeed Airport," Zipkin said. "I was a low-time instructor, who had never flown a seaplane before, and didn’t really know anything from anything. But with the nature of seaplane training, you have a new student every couple of days. So, you always learn a little bit from each of your students. I learned an enormous amount and credit this experience with giving me the kick in the pants to get my aviation career going.”

Goodspeed has long been a popular destination for this rating, as well as for those who own and fly their own amphibious aircraft. This aspect was one of the many reasons why the pair decided Goodspeed Airport was a worthy investment.

“It’s what I would call the most beautiful airport in New England, although I may be a little biased,” noted McEnery. “It’s a 57-acre property and was in decent shape with a lot of grass to cut (including a turf landing area that’s adjacent to the paved runway and is similar in length). There were 35 hangars and a neat little terminal building. It has quite a distinct character to it. As time went on with the old owner, who maintained the airport and its infrastructure really well, the activity went down. There wasn’t an active flying community going on there.” 

“Since we’ve been here, the feedback we are getting is that it is changing. So, on the weekend, a lot of people will fly in and walk a few minutes up the road to a restaurant. That [flying for food] is the primary mission for all pilots,” McEnery added with a laugh.

Bikes are available for loan at Goodspeed Airport (42B) in East Haddam, Connecticut. [Courtesy: Goodspeed Airport]

Being that Zipkin, who is now the president of Tradewind Aviation, had such memorable times during his early aviation days flying seaplanes, it’s unsurprising that one of the airport’s most important features is its proximity to the river. But, when the duo assumed ownership of Goodspeed in the Fall of 2020, the airport wasn’t fully operational for seaplane use. Additionally, the new owners felt that there were other areas of opportunity. 

“One of the biggest improvements that we’ve made was putting in seaplane docks. The other big improvement, maybe even bigger than the seaplane docks, was starting to keep the airplane open year-round and being welcoming to all pilots. The airport prior to our ownership would close down at Christmas and re-open at Easter. It was NOTAMed closed, to where you could not operate during that time. The previous owner didn't want to clear snow, which is quite the shame, and of course reduced the hangar appeal to pilots,” McEnery said. 

“What being closed for four months out of the year really ended up doing was that the hangar space kind of wound up being more self-storage space, as opposed to aircraft storage space. We are pushing to try and have the hangars used for active aviation purposes. But the combination of being open full-time, seaplane docks, and being welcoming to people that want to base their planes and businesses at the airport are the three biggest things that we have done during our ownership tenure thus far.”

Zipkin added some additional detail. “The thing that I’m looking forward to is that we’ve added tie-downs recently and plan on adding more. The docks weren’t there when we bought the airport, either. We had to re-permit for them, and it’s been a two-year process to be able to put the docks back in the water, even though they were there before. Once those go in, I am really looking forward to the potential of more of that seaplane operation coming back and really being alive. There’s instruction going on right now, but it’s really the coolest thing seeing a seaplane going by on the river at 200 feet. It’s a great sight to see.”

An aerial view of East Haddam’s 600-foot-long swing bridge and opera house. [Courtesy: Goodspeed Airport]

With some big improvements under their belt, the duo is encouraged to take on more projects that they feel are long overdue. They believe that this work will really set the tone for how pilots see Goodspeed and its position as a New England destination airport. There is one aspect of its current state that may be a negative for some pilots, though. Regardless, the two are confident that the airport’s charm more than makes up for the lack of a common amenity. 

“And I don’t think I mentioned it yet, but just adjacent to the airport, to the north, there is a 600-foot-long swing bridge. And there is a steam train across the river that operates, as well as an opera house in town. So, when you are talking about a picturesque community type of thing, people are always like, ‘holy cow!’ They feel like they have stepped back in time.”

“We don’t have fuel at this time, but it’s on the short list of things that we are thinking about doing in the near term,” Zipkin said. “What we are trying to foster is an airport that is more than just a place that people fly to, hop in a courtesy car, and drive away. We are really trying to create a community where people know each other, hang out with one another, and are welcoming of visitors. And we have a waiting list of people that want to be here!”

Grant Boyd is a private pilot with eight years of experience in aviation business, including marketing, writing, customer service, and sales. Boyd holds a Bachelor's and a Master's of Business Administration degree, both from Wichita State University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Oklahoma State University. He was chosen as a NBAA Business Aviation "Top 40 Under 40" award recipient in 2020.

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