Officials eye growth for Groton-New London, Bradley airports

New London — The Connecticut Airport Authority's executive director sees the potential for growth at Groton-New London Airport, calling it one of the airports in the state that shows the most promise.

Not only is Groton-New London the only one of the five general aviation airports in the state that has the certification to handle commercial service, but its location in an area with a unique mix of companies and the casinos also is a plus, the executive director, Kevin Dillon, said Tuesday.

Dillon and Tony Sheridan, chairman of the authority's board of directors, spoke to The Day's editorial board during an hourlong interview.

Dillon said he wants to restore commercial service at Groton-New London, with service to Washington, D.C., being a goal that makes sense for the airport to pursue. Though the restoration of commercial service has been an elusive goal so far, he said he has a good sense that there is commitment from local businesses to support such service.

Corporate aviation, a sector that is growing overall, is currently the mainstay of the airport, he said. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the airport had 43,744 total operations in 2017.

The authority recently was working with a carrier interested in starting commercial service from Groton to the Washington, D.C., area, he said. But the authority wasn't able to move forward because the carrier's planned acquisition of another carrier to provide the aircraft capacity fell through.

Dillon said the authority is in conversations with a number of carriers about the potential for commercial service at Groton-New London. When Dillon speaks to carriers about Bradley International service, Groton-New London is always in the mix of those conversations, too, but the service may be more attractive to niche carriers, he said.

Sheridan said Groton is a "classic example" of the economic development opportunities connected to airports, because of the significant amount of developable land nearby. 

Dillon said the authority has "a couple of irons in the fire" for Groton-New London: the potential of hotel development and additional hangar construction.

Bradley International

Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks also is poised to grow and is selling the "convenience factor" to passengers, who have other choices in New York and Boston, said Dillon.

Dillon said many people in Connecticut are looking to avoid the hourslong trip to Boston or New York. But he said the trick in getting those people to come to Bradley, particularly those in the business community, is ensuring that they are comfortable with the consistency of flights there. Also, enough people have to take the flights currently available at Bradley to show there's demand for more.

"We're trying to get folks to understand, though, in order to get a number of frequencies to a particular destination you have to show success on the first one," he said.

With most routes at Bradley at least 85 percent full, the authority feels "that there's a lot of opportunity for not only new cities, but to enhance the number of frequencies at the existing destinations as well," he said.

Dillon said Bradley is known as a cost-efficient and reliable airport and has positioned itself to offer a healthy market to airlines.

"I believe Bradley can become a 10 million passenger airport," Dillon said. "Last year we handled 6.5 million passengers, so there’s the potential for a lot of growth occurring at the airport."

To prepare for the growth, a master plan has been developed for the next 20 years that outlines upwards of $1.4 billion of improvements at Bradley, including a new transportation center, he said.

Overall, since taking over from the state Department of Transportation five years ago, the authority has been trying to enhance route structure, improve customer service at all of its facilities, and serve as  an economic generator for the state, he said.

Dillon pointed to accomplishments that included the restoration of transatlantic service with non-stop flights to Dublin, Ireland, by Aer Lingus. Domestically, Bradley established transcontinental service to Los Angeles and seasonal San Francisco service.

The authority plans to look at other domestic and international opportunities, he said.

Domestically, Seattle is the authority's top target for future direct service, while Phoenix, Austin, Milwaukee, Nashville and Jacksonville are other targets, followed by New Orleans. Internationally, nonstop service to London would be a goal for future service.

k.drelich@theday.com

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