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A Short Flight Through History

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ON TO THE MILENNIUM (1980-Present)
foxwoods statueRecent Reminicing

Although cutbacks in defense spending as well as the national recession put a damper on Connecticut's 50-year boom during the 1980s, state prosperity returned in the 1990s with the help of (who else?) the Mashantucket Pequots. Their federal recognition and settlement of land claims led to the building of Foxwoods Casino and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, both of which were a great boost to the state tourism industry.Soon after, the Mohegans (Uncasville) also won federal recognition and established their own successful casino, the Mohegan Sun.  (Photo courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce of Southeastern Connecticut, 1999 Buyers Guide and Membership Directory — now the Eastern Connecticut Chambers of Commerce.)  
Area Businesses Take Stock in Groton-New London Airport
Pilgrim Airlines
  Pilgrim Airlines was one of several commuter operators to popularize the Twin Otter, originally a bush-country aircraft, but which proved to be an ideal commuter plane, especially for the demanding Northeast air corridor. When the Twin Otters arrived at Groton-New London Airport, Pilgrim was running one route to Kennedy (NY); and in 1986, the planes were replaced with new Beechcraft 1900 airliners. Flights to Boston began in 1972.   Pilgrim Airlines, founded by Joseph M. Fugere, soon became the third largest regional carrier operating in New England. Its beginning was as a small air taxi service out of the Waterford Airport, serving mostly Electric Boat personnel, with only four planes and seven employees. But Fugere saw the need for extended commuter service in the area and moved the business to Groton in 1962. At one point, Pilgrim grew to encompass 26 planes with over 400 employees. In 1986, Pilgrim and NewAir Flight, Inc. (New Haven) were acquired by Business Express (Marketing Corp. of America, Westport), opening up valuable New York and Washington markets. Combined, the two airlines served over 500,000 passengers in 1985. Following the sale of Pilgrim, Fugere formed JMF Aircraft, an airplane leasing company. Fugere, a Navy veteran and former jet pilot, passed away at the age of 66 on September 23, 2001.
Survival Systems, Inc. Opens Groton Facility Next to Airport
   On June 22, 1999, Governor John G. Rowland announced the grand opening of Survival Systems Training, Inc.'s new $2 million training center located directly across from the Groton-New London Airport on Tower Avenue. The aviation/marine safety and survival training company provides courses for pilots, air crew, and passengers, which include aircraft ditching, aircraft emergency slide evacuation, emergency breathing systems, smoke/fire in the cockpit, rescue and recovery training, air medical patient evacuation, and land/sea survival. The new facility includes the latest in safety/survival equipment and classrooms. The 9,000-square-foot facility also features a 14-foot deep training tank for the Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS), the most advanced aircraft ditching simulator in the world. The improved training center brought with it 26 new jobs. Survival Systems Training
   Survival Systems Training, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Survival Systems, Ltd. (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada), which has been in business since 1982. Governor Rowland commented on the improved Survival Systems, Inc.: "This is good news for Groton and all of Southeastern Connecticut. We continue to see the economic rebirth of that area of the state as more and more businesses choose to locate and expand there. There is a lot of excitement in Southeastern Connecticut, and the addition of a unique company like Survival Systems Training, Inc. is a testament to our ever-improving business climate."
   The ocean-side location as well as the proximity of local military operations were factors in Survival Systems' new location. "We needed simple access to an airport and the water, while also being close to our military clientele," said Keith Stedmen, vice president of operations for Survival Systems. "Groton met all these requirements. In addition, the State of Connecticut agreed to work with us in the construction of our new training facility. Their commitment to our company and our future success was the difference."
   The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and the Connecticut Development Authority (CDA), who are providing financial assistance, worked on Survival System's move for two years, which included a CDA trip to Canada to meet with company officials.
Survival Systems Training flight crews
Survival Systems Training, Inc. instructs pilots, aircrew, and passengers in water aircraft ditching emergency and escape procedures, as well as rescue and sea survival techniques. Survival Systems also provides U.S.C.G.-approved open-water sea survival training under all climatic conditions for both aviation and marine interests.
  "Government responsiveness can be a determining factor in companies locating here in Connecticut," commented DECD Commissioner James Abromaitis. "I believe that this project is an excellent example of the importance of teamwork." Connecticut's Chairman of Development, Arthur Diedrick stated that the relocation of Survival Systems Training, Inc. is indicative of the company's commitment to attracting international companies to Connecticut.
The State of Connecticut Moves Forward for Site Renovations
Several buildings at the airport, some still bearing the old name of Trumbull Airport
In 1985, Hurricane Gloria hit New England, one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever make it that far up the Atlantic coast. Several buildings at the airport, some still bearing the old name of Trumbull Airport, were badly damaged and necessitated razing.
  In 1985, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) invited developers to bid on construction of a hotel and conference center at the airport. "The business demand determines the amount of space that is made available....The demands and the business is increasing at the airport," said George Crook, DOT Aeronatics Bureau (The Day, June 20, 1985). The only hotel situated at the airport had been the Blue Horizon Inn, which closed its doors in the 1950s. But in September of that year, more-important issues came to the fore. Hurricane Gloria hit New England, one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever make it that far up the Atlantic coast. Several buildings at the airport, some still bearing the old name of Trumbull Airport, were badly damaged and necessitated razing. Equipment belonging to Columbia Air Services and Aero Marine, among others, were evacuated from damaged hangers.
   Also placed on the table was a $5 million expansion for the airport terminal, which at the time housed two airlines, USAir Express and Continental Express, as well as three car rental companies. The antiquated terminal utilities had not been seriously addressed in 28 years; bathrooms, electrical systems, and heating were in dire need of updating. And as if that weren't enough, the terminal roof leaked, and there was no air conditioning. The proposed updates would not only address past problems, but also prepare Groton-New London Airport for the future.
   Proposed was a new, 42,000-square-foot terminal building, a fourfold increase in space. The renovation would also encompass some of the extras that patrons expect, such as a gift shop, a news stand, and full-scale baggage claim area.
   Unfortunately, the proposed plan came at a time of hardship for the state. Air traffic had been decreasing over the years due to a decline in the economy, a situation that was affecting all airports. In addition, business flyers had been bypassing Groton for the convenience of nonstop flights to Kennedy and Washington available at T.F. Green (Warwick, RI), which is only approximately an hour away. Landings and take-offs peaked in 1988 at Groton-New London Aiport at 139,707. In 1989, that number fell to 120,869, then crept up again to 139,005 in the following year. The number of patrons using the airport declined from 87,712 in 1989 to 68,384 in 1990, a 38-percent drop. State officials explained this drop as due to the loss of Business Express, which left the Groton airport in 1990; its direct flights to Washington and New York were no longer available.
   William A. Colacrai, general aviation coordinator for the State of Connecticut, said that Groton-New London Airport was only experiencing the hardships suffered by other airports thoughout the nation due to the economic recession. Business at airports statewide were reporting decreases of 25-30 percent over the prior two years. Still, the terminal renovations were proposed to attract new carriers and new business to the airport. Then Airport Manager Richard Pealer said that since Business Express' pull-out, military patrons were relying more on private flights for transportation to the major hubs. Hopefully, the state could effect a change. "If we offered destinations at competitive prices," said Colacrai, "more people would use the airport." The airport Master Renovation Plan was further fine-tuned by Catherine Young upon her ascent to airport manager. The firm of Jorge Panteli was one of the consultants contracted to institute studies and/or recommendations for the airport renovations. Aviation personnel also conducted a marketing survey to determine who was using the airport, when, and how many of these patrons were tourism oriented. Costs for the publicly owned airport renovations were borne by the FAA and the State of Connecticut.
  Then, 1993 brought great news. Finally, the new runway lights were completed and flashing, a great aid to pilots frequenting the airport. "The airport has a problem because the approach is over water," one pilot told the Norwich Bulletin (March 24, 1993). "It's like flying into a black pocket." But the lights hadn't been easy to come by, having survived 20 years' worth of haggling between the state officials and Groton residents who claimed the lights would interfere with area widlife on Baker Cove. Hearings were held in 1990 by the Environmental Protection Agency; but eventually, permits were approved and work commenced.
   The new Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System (MALS-R) allows pilots increased ability to land in fog and bad weather by lighting the approach with 12 platforms of lights. According to the Department of Transportation, $421,000 was spent on the project, which formed the final recommendation of the 1978 Master Plan for airport rennovations, a plan which went into revision stages in 1995. The plan also included the remodelling of the terminal building, as well as improvements to Tower Road, which leads from I-95 and the Gold Star Bridge to the airport.
New runway approach lighting at Groton-New London Airport. Photo courtesy of the the New London Day.
New runway approach lighting at Groton-New London Airport. Photo courtesy of the the New London Day.
Silence is Golden
Quiet plan routes   One of the important issues that was formally addressed in 1980 was the complaint of airport noise by local Groton residents. The Noise Abatment Program, instituted by Groton-New London Airport officials on January 14, 1980, put greater efforts in place to alter flight plans and restrict airport maintenance schedules to better mesh with local residential lifestyles. An advisory committee, chaired by Carl A. Strand, studied the airport noise problem and commented on the new procedures: "We had to do a lot of stirring in the state to get this off the ground, and hopefully it has done some good." (New London Day, February 24, 1988). That spring, local residents were still skeptical, with a wait-and-see attitude toward the program. Who was deemed the largest offender? Allegheny Commuter planes with their 44-seat, Fairchild F-27 — the largest and loudest aircraft then served by the Groton airport.
  Part of the Noise Abatement Program included restrictions on touch-and-go operations, a training maneuver in which pilots land and take off again immediately while taxiing down the runway. The training is required of pilots in order to requalify for their licenses. Pilots were asked to voluntarily refrain from touch-and-go between sunset and 8 a.m. The activity was banned between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  To better comply with the wishes of local residents, two new courses were added at the airport, which were expected to add only a few additional dollars to pilots' fuel costs. The new courses would enable pilots to avoid schools and homes upon take-off/landing. Nighttime maintenance was discontinued, and runup activities (when a pilots idle their engines for 10 minutes to check that instruments and operations are in working order) were restricted to the morning and at airport areas that were removed from residences.

"The Birds" Rain Down Again on the Airport
  In 1995, the The War of the Gulls was still being raged. The years of Pealer's imaginative solutions had not helped the situation much, which the new airport manager, Gary Schmid, found out when he took over in 1994: The gull-faced runway painting was a distraction to pilots; the birds were not being fooled by decoys; and the music being played on loudspeakers only made Groton the place to dine — a sort of dinner-theater on wings. More-stringent methods were being designed, such as armed guards from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firing at the birds with blanks, and trained bird-chasing falcons. None of these ideas were panning out.
   About this time, too, a problem arose with some cousins of the infamous gulls — Canada geese. One early evening at 8:30 p.m., a USAir flight was forced to abort takeoff when a flock of Canada geese crossed the runway. Casualties were staggering: 10 geese were killed in the accident. Then airport police officer Stephen Belleneur reported that fortunately there were no passengers aboard, and the plane only sustained minor damage. The geese, approximately 400 of them, had adopted the land around the aiport as a breeding ground — obviously not very safe sex.
For The Birds!
Seagualls
  These years also brought to light a curious but annoying problem at the airport — dive-bombing seagulls that kept the airport maintenance crews busy clearing the runways of oyster shells. The seagulls use the runway taxiways at Groton-New London Airport to crack the oysters open. Large snowplows were brought into service to clean the runways of shells, and Airport Manager Richard E. Pealer pointed out the potential danger of the tire-puncturing shells on taxiing aircraft. Only a few shells can cause a lot of problems. Pealer estimated that at least 14 quarts of shells are scraped up on a heavily bombarded day.
  "You might see them every 10 to 20 feet, but that's enough to create a hazard to airline operations," Pealer reported to the Norwich Bulletin (April 10, 1988). "They are strategically located." Although some plane tires had been slit by shells, forturnately there had been no major accidents. But the shells can also cause plane damage if sucked up by the vortex created by the propellers.
  The problem seemed to be a recent one, a consequence of Hurricane Gloria in 1985, which stirred up the oyster beds in the waters surrounding the airport — to the seagulls' delight and the airport crews' disdain.
plane flying over shels  The oysters were exposed during low tides, making it easy for the gulls to break them loose. Many solutions were volunteered to help solve the problem, some of them tried and true, some of them a bit unorthedox. Ideas ranged from from painting pictures of the birds on the runways (seagulls won't not drop shells to a perceived competitor), to setting up decoys, to playing the 1812 Overture over a loudspeaker.
  The seagull-maintenance problem only helped to further decline traffic at the airport. Regularly scheduled departures dropped from 43 to 19 flights daily in 1986, with the majority of traffic turning to general aviation. (Photo courtesy of the New London Day.)
Post-September 11, 2001 We will all remember...
  Indeed, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, touched every American's life. At Groton-New London Airport, new federal airspace restricts were quickly set in place to protect against any possible catatrophe to the Groton, New London, and Waterford area in view of, specifically, the submarine base and Millstone nuclear power plant.
  Even after the general aviation ban following the attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and its subsequent lifting, a flight ban was imposed on October 29th, 2001, declaring the airspace around Millstone nuclear power station in Waterford off-limits to private pilots. The federal ban affected nearly 100 public airports nationwide, as well as hundreds of private airstrips. It mandated that pilots were banned from flying lower than 18,000 feet within an 11.5-mile radius of a nuclear facility. The restrictions prompted the closing of Groton-New London Airport to most of its daily air traffic.
  The new restrictions were a blow to many of the businesses operating out of the airport and came on the heels of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's announcement of the "credible threat" of another terrorist attack. Just before Ashcroft's statement, Governor Roland had sent National Guard troops to patrol Millstone as well as the Connecticut Yankee plant (East Haddam).
After the September 11th event, all airports were closed and all planes grounded. But restrictions on general aviation were eased and lifted in most cases by October 21, except for Boston, New York, and Washington, DC. The new October ban in southeastern Connecticut was issued in the interest of public/national safety. The control towers were notified, and pilots received their notices through Flight Service, which they are required to call before taking off.
  On Thursday, November 8th the FAA ban was lifted, and flights resumed at the airport. Still, the intervening freeze hit the area's general aviation community hard. Some pilots were forced to operate out of Westerly Airport. "We did about 20 to 30 percent of our normal business week," Brian Ward, who operates a flight-training business, told the New London Day. General aviation is a classification of pilots and airplanes that includes private, recreational, and instructional flights, as well as corporate, air taxis, and air charter operations. But the ban did not affect military, medical, or law-enforcement aircraft. It also did not apply to commercial USAir flights.
  As one of the tenants at Groton-New London Airport, RunAway Cafe restauranter Chad M. Andrelli said his business was a bit more brisk after the lifting of the ban. "I guess when (private pilots) are able to fly," he told the Day, "the airport seems to liven up a bit more....I hope there isn't any more threats. I'm trying to stay positive." And so are we all.
 Business owners like Brian Ward, right, of Coastal Air, found it necessary to reschedule flying lessons to Westerly Airport.  
The the New England airspace flight ban hit the area's small aviation businesses hard. Business owners like Brian Ward, right, of Coastal Air, found it necessary to reschedule flying lessons to Westerly Airport. (Photo courtesy of the New London Day.)
Travelers await their flights at Groton-New London Airport.  
Travelers await their flights at Groton-New London Airport. After the September 11th attacks, flyers were stranded nationwide. The Groton airport serves as a major means of transportation for cadets at the local Coast Guard Academy in New London, as well as servicemen stationed at the Navel Submarine Base and School in Groton. (Photo courtesy of the New London Day.)
What's In A Name?

  It seems that as time goes by, the threads in the fabric of life only become more numerous, more complicated ... and among them, the proper designation for Groton-New London, aka Trumbull Airport.
Groton New London Airport Cartoon  Let's begin with the booking agent, who explains that Trumbull Airport is two miles from Groton and four miles from New London. Their baggage claims use the call letters "GON," but the ticket destination reads "New London/Groton." If you're traveling from outside of New England, you'll probably be told that the flights go to New London, even though the airport is in Groton. Then again, many of the major airlines that connect to USAir don't list either New London nor Groton, only GON.
  The Civil Aeronautics Board has designated the airport as New London/Groton. The state Department of Transportation formally changed the airport's name from Trumbull to Groton-New London. But flight manuals available to pilots describing airports and runways in New England still list Trumbull as in New London. Not a few passengers to businesses and corporations in Groton have been told they would land in New London. Similarly, people going to the Submarine Base in New London actually are going to Groton. So how to solve this confusion? Easy. Simply allocate funds for a runway out of Bank Street or Captain's Walk in New London. (Taken from an article by Steven Slosberg, with permisison by the New London Day.)
 
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