MERIDEN — A few months before the annual Fly-In at Meriden Markham Airport, an event that spotlights the local facility and aviation safety, the Record-Journal met up with airport manager Constance Castillo of Kensington to chat about her daily responsibilities, history in the field (or, rather, in the air) and the future of the airport.
Q: How long have you been the airport manager here at Meriden airport?
Castillo: I’ve been here for about four and a half years.
Q: What got you into this type of job?
Castillo: Well, I’m a pilot and I had worked for flight school up at Brainard Airport for a few years and then the opening came for the airport manager here so I came back. I had worked this airport when it was run by an FBO years ago.
I actually grew up flying out of this airport because both of my parents were pilots. So I have a long history here.
Q: When did you first start flying?
Castillo: I got my license when I was 25 but I flew my whole life with my parents. They actually took me up on my first flight when I was 19 days old from this airport. So I’ve been flying since I was a baby.
Q: What is your daily schedule here like?
Castillo: Well, I open the airport first by driving all of the ramps and the taxi ways and the runway looking for any debris which is called FOD, Foreign Object and Debris, that needs to be removed. Wildlife control, this morning we had a flock of geese that was on the runway so I had to scare them off.
I also do fuel tests. So we have a self-service fuel station here. I have to test the fuel every morning for any water contaminants.
Working with tenants, pilots and aircraft. We get a lot of charters that come in and drop off passengers or business people.
Every day is kind of different.
Q: How does weather and other challenges impact how the airport runs?
Castillo: Planes can still come in with certain weather minimums, they’ll come on an instrument approach. A lot of the charters will still come in and out if there’s bad weather. But on a good day we’re pretty active, we can have up to maybe 50 or 70 planes a day coming in and out of the airport.
Right now we are at full capacity. The Oxford airport was shut down for the month of July while they’re redoing the runway. So we have about 25 of their tenants here.
Q: What are some of the skills you need to do this job?
Castillo: As airport manager it’s familiarity with FAA regulations as far as air space, as far as pilot certifications. I work with the FAA closely, I work with the flight standards district office and Connecticut Airport Authority.
We’re what is called an un-towered airport, as opposed to Bradley International Airport they have a tower which communicates with all aircraft when they come into the air space. They have everyone on radar and here we don’t. So the pilots talk over a frequency which is called UNICOM, I monitor that.
Q: How do you get certified to fly?
Castillo: It’s a long process, you need a minimum of 40 hours with the FAA. It actually takes a lot longer than that.
I started with my private pilot license just flying recreationally and then about 10 years ago I began getting my advance ratings. I got my instrument rating, my commercial rating and then my certified instructor rating and then my multi-engine rating.
Q: What kind of planes do you fly?
Castillo: Mostly single engine, I do have my multi-engine rating but typically I fly just small Cessnas. Either four-seater, two-seater Cessnas.
Q: What do you enjoy most about flying?
Castillo: Probably just the adventure and the freedom. Just being in the air.
Q: What is the future of Meriden Markham Airport?
Castillo: Well, next year is actually the 100th anniversary of the first plane that ever landed here so we will be planning a big event around that.
There’s a lot of growth going on here. We’re building hangars so our tenant base is expanding. We built four hangars a few years ago, we have another 16 hangars that are in the process of being quoted right now to be built. We just got a 10,000 gallon fuel tank so that we don’t have to fill up as often. We are supported by the FAA so we get funding and grants for airport improvements.
More information can be found at http://www.meridenmarkham.com/about.htm