Airport agency official: Time for Groton commercial service to take off

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The Connecticut Airport Authority plans to sponsor a meeting with major businesses in the area, as it moves to step up efforts to restore commercial passenger service to the Groton-New London Airport, the head of the authority's board of directors said.

CAA board of directors Chairman Tony Sheridan, also the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said that with the growing economy, including the uptick in hiring at Electric Boat, plans for a Coast Guard museum, and a recently announced offshore wind deal, now is the time for the airport authority to ramp up its efforts.

"Eastern Connecticut is in a great position right now to grow, and I think business people, whether you’re in the development world or whether you’re in the airline business, will be looking at eastern Connecticut, so the timing is right," said Sheridan, who was appointed as the board's chair in July. The convenience of air travel may be particularly appealing to residents, employees and tourists looking to avoid traveling on crowded Interstate 95, he said.

But to interest an airline in providing commercial passenger service to Groton-New London Airport, the business community in the area needs to show its level of commitment, he said.

The CAA is inviting top companies in the region to the small group meeting at the end of the month to find out the top locations they fly to, how many people fly there and how much of their travel budget they potentially could direct through Groton-New London Airport, he said.

The best outcome would be for the business community to affirm that if a niche carrier were to provide service to Groton-New London Airport, they would support it, Sheridan said. He pointed to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Martha's Vineyard as examples of potential destinations that might interest the community.

Sheridan said that last year an air carrier thought there was a market in the region and was interested in Groton-New London Airport. But it ultimately didn't work out because the air carrier's plan to acquire another carrier that would supply the aircraft fell through, CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon told The Day's Editorial Board in the fall.

U.S. Airways Express, the airport's top carrier for commercial passenger service, stopped flying to Groton in 2003, but the airport has retained the certification that supports such service.

The area's casinos and the growth at Electric Boat present the region's biggest advantage in attracting a carrier to Groton-New London Airport, Sheridan said.

He said that with the economy improving after a "rough stretch" over at least the past decade, "we want to strike when the iron is hot." About four years ago, the CAA held a similar meeting with business leaders, but Sheridan said the economy is in a much better position today.

The CAA has started early discussions with New Haven and Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, reported by CTNewsJunkie.com, that Dillon said in a recent phone interview ultimately could result in an agreement for CAA to operate the Tweed New Haven Airport, a direct acquisition or a plan to better coordinate activities. Dillon said in the interview that those discussions won't have an impact on CAA's pursuit to restore commercial service at Groton-New London Airport. He acknowledged that from a systemwide standpoint, significantly enhanced commercial service at Tweed or another airport in the future could make it less likely for other airports located in one geographic area to develop commercial service, but he said it's hypothetical at this point.

Sheridan said he doesn't think efforts to enhance commercial service at Tweed New Haven or a proposal, reported by the Connecticut Post, to restore commercial service to Sikorsky Memorial Airport will have an impact on Groton-New London, as the Groton airport is located far enough away to develop its own level of service.

k.drelich@theday.com

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