Airport authority seeking to bring regional commercial service back to Groton
Groton — The Connecticut Airport Authority wants to bring back regional commercial service to Groton-New London Airport and is in discussions with an air carrier, according to the executive director of the authority.
Executive Director Kevin Dillon told an audience of about 35 on Thursday that the authority also is speaking with a developer about building a hotel with up to 40 rooms at the airport, and another developer about building additional hangars to house aircraft.
State Reps. Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, and Christine Conley, D-Groton, arranged the meeting in the Town Hall Annex to discuss the airport’s future with Dillon.
“Principally, we’d be interested in looking at connecting to a major hub,” Dillon said. “Our ideal connection would be the Washington, D.C., area, for obvious reasons, based on some of the industries that are located here and the military presence that’s in this section of the state.”
Groton-New London Airport is the only one of the state's five general aviation airports with Part 139 certification, which allows it to accommodate planes with up to 30 seats.
The authority has 27 acres available for development at the airport, most of which have air site access, but the quasi-public agency also is interested in bringing in unrelated businesses, Dillon said.
The authority is seeking to cut costs and increase revenue because the five general aviation airports are operating with a $4.5 million deficit, he said. It costs $7 million to run the airports and they collectively bring in $2.5 million, he said.
In prior years, the state subsidized their operations, but the authority was told last year the subsidy would end, he said. Most staff who work at the airport are state employees, which carries a high cost due to the state retirement system, he said.
The authority recently opted for a hybrid arrangement to contract out for staffing by having an airport operations company supply employees for the Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard and Waterbury-Oxford airports.
The company, AvPORTS, would provide employees for the airport, while the authority would retain control over policy and development. Existing staff would be replaced by contracted staff through attrition.
Of the authority’s five general aviation airports, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard and Waterbury-Oxford are the authority's priorities in terms of the role they play in the system and revenue they’re generating, Dillon said. Airports in Danielson and Windham are used more for recreational flying, he said.
Most of the discussion Thursday centered around the potential for commercial flights returning to Groton.
Al Valente, chairman of the board of directors of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, asked Dillon what information the authority needs to secure a regional carrier.
“We’re a tourist destination, we have Mystic, we have Thames River Heritage Park coming to bloom, and that brings in tourism to our area," Valente said.
Dillon said demographic information about visitors would help, but airline groups ultimately would be sold on business travel, or knowing that one or more businesses effectively guarantee they’ll use a certain number of trips. He said he was in talks with an air carrier, but he didn't elaborate further on what those talks entail or the air carrier involved.
The authority also would “love” to take the New England Airlines business from Westerly State Airport, which offers flights to Block Island, R.I., Dillon said.
Kevin Marquardt, who owns property on South Road near the airport, said he used to take regional flights from Groton-New London instead of from the airport in Warwick, just outside Providence. Even though tickets were slightly more expensive, it was a cheaper alternative than paying for parking and gasoline and spending the time to get to Providence, he said.
“I’d like to see it (return) because we could fly out of there for the convenience,” he said.
Mark Adams of Stonington, who owns a private plane and uses the airport, said this area is a gateway to New England. “There are ways that they could market that,” he said.
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