Responding to a burgeoning need for hangar space and FBO services in the Northeast, Waterbury-Oxford Airport (KOXC) in Oxford, Connecticut, is growing.
Earlier this month, Atlantic Aviation opened a new 40,000-square-foot hangar that includes a 4,000 square-foot U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. “The hangar was almost full before we got the certificate of occupancy,” says Shawn Rose, area director for Atlantic Aviation.
Rose says there’s a huge need for hangar space in the Northeast, from the New York metro area to Boston. “I think, in general, the customers that never flew privately before, that got a taste of private flying because of COVID, they're never going back,” he says. “I think that’s been some of the growth that we’ve seen in this industry in both Part 91 and Part 135 parts of the world.
“You call all these charter operations and they're full, they’re booked. This just goes along with it. As the fleets grow, the aircraft are getting larger, hangar space is becoming more and more a necessity and so are all the ancillary services.”
Like Atlantic, Clay Lacy Aviation is doing its best to fill the growing need for hangar space and take advantage of the surge in business aviation activity in the Northeast. In July, it broke ground on a $20 to $40 million construction project at KOXC that will ultimately create 120,000 square feet of hangar space and a full-service FBO.
Depending upon the cost of supplies and the economy, the company may split the project into two phases, says David “Buddy” Blackburn, senior vice president of Waterbury-Oxford FBO operations at Clay Lacy Aviation. He expects, at a minimum, that by early 2024, the company will have completed phase one of the project: 40,000 square feet of hangar space, a fuel farm, a passenger terminal, and executive offices.
The project will create Clay Lacy Aviation’s third full-service FBO and maintenance facility—and its first brick and mortar facility on the East Coast. The company, which currently leases space from Atlantic Aviation at KOXC for its maintenance services, offices, and about 20 managed aircraft, plans to continue to do so—so the additional hangar space will be available for new KOXC customers.
In a released statement, Brian Kirkdoffer, president and CEO of Clay Lacy Aviation, said the new East Coast headquarters for Clay Lacy “will be one of the finest FBOs (fixed-base operators) and aviation facilities in the country” and will expand and enhance its services at Oxford. “Oxford will be an incredible economic and employment engine, attracting and supporting the finest aircraft and flight operations in the world.”
According to Blackburn, upon completion of both phases of the project, there will be a total of 360,000 square feet of hangar space for jets and general aviation aircraft at KOXC (including the existing 240,000 square feet owned/operated by Atlantic).
And, he says, there’s a need for it. “Atlantic [Aviation at KOXC] is absolutely full…and when I say full, I mean over full, some of the planes have to sit outside because they don’t have enough room,” Blackburn says.
Aside from corporate jets, the number of light single-engine and multiengine aircraft based at Oxford has also grown, Rose says. “We completed T-hangars of single and [other] light aircraft and those are full as well.”
What’s Driving the Demand?
In addition to new post-COVID aircraft owners and increased private and charter and jet card operations, Blackburn says Oxford’s location is contributing to the growth in aviation activity at the airport. “We’re on the western side of the state, and as the crow flies it’s a hop and a jump over to White Plains, or Teterboro, or any of the big New York airports…we’re close to even Boston.”
It doesn’t hurt, either, that the runway at KOXC is a healthy 5,801 feet by 100 feet. “We’re the largest general aviation [airport] by runway length and the amount of airplanes based than any other airport in the state,” Blackburn says.
Also, the taxes in Connecticut tend to be more favorable for corporate aviation than those of surrounding states, for purchasing and maintaining aircraft, and hangars closer to New York generally come at a higher cost, he says. “Our proximity to the New York metro area is such that it’s conducive to having an option for hangar space. Probably 80 to 85 percent of our airplanes empty out of Oxford and go pickup in the New York metro area, drop off in the New York metro area and then come home empty.”
There’s also a hangar deficit in the metro area that leaves aircraft owners little choice but to base their aircraft farther from their homes and offices. “There’s no room, generally speaking, in either Teterboro [KTEB] or White Plains [KHPN] for corporate jet aircraft to be based or hangared inside,” Blackburn says.
There’s so much demand for hangar space and aircraft services at KOXC, that Atlantic Aviation isn’t worried about Clay Lacy becoming a competing FBO at the airport. “Honestly, I think there’s enough demand for the both of us,” Rose says.
International Customs and Border Protection Facility
Another plus, now, for hangaring at KOXC is its newly opened International Customs and Border Protection facility, a project that was funded jointly by Atlantic Aviation and the Connecticut Airport Authority.
According to Rose, the project started when the FBO was owned/operated by Keystone Aviation Services, prior to Atlantic purchasing it in 2017.
“It was really a request from the users of the airport to the Connecticut Airport Authority,” Rose says. Because KOXC is such a large base for tenant aircraft that reposition to other airports, not having a customs facility at Oxford was an inconvenience. “When they [aircraft] came back empty, they had to clear customs, say in White Plains, in Buffalo, or in Albany, and then they had to reposition back in Oxford, so it was causing a cycle on the aircraft,” Rose explains.
The new U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility will remove that extra stop, and Rose hopes it will increase itinerant traffic to KOXC as well. “Being able to now clear customs at Waterbury-Oxford, rather than other high traffic airports in the region, will be much easier for virtually any flight transiting the border,” he says.
The 4,000-square-foot facility is user-fee based and includes briefing rooms, holding areas and closed-interview capabilities. It is open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and afterhours upon advance notice.
“This opening of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility marks a significant milestone in the continued growth of Waterbury-Oxford Airport,” says Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, in a release. “It opens the doors to more international travel and provides a seamless experience to those traveling for business or leisure purposes. We thank U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Atlantic Aviation for their partnership in making this enhancement a reality.”