By HARLAN LEVY
Journal Inquirer of Manchester
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Bradley International Airport is on good financial footing, with steadily increasing passenger numbers and has a major low-cost advantage over New York and Boston airports that it must capitalize on, state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker told the 11-member Connecticut Airport Authority at its inaugural meeting.
The legislature voted this year to replace Bradley’s Board of Directors with the new entity, which also has responsibility for the state’s five other general aviation airports. Most significantly, lawmakers removed the authority from DOT control, which has hamstrung development for decades with cumbersome and sludge-like bureaucratic processes.
The changeover’s goal is “to maximize to the greatest extent possible the untapped potential of Bradley airport and the five regionals,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said when he swore in the panel Oct. 14. “We are not maximizing the potential of this airport.”
More traffic means more jobs, he said. “We need to be agile. We need to move quickly ., which is why we thought it highly appropriate that we move to this form of management.”
“We have a low-cost advantage that’s just terrific, and we can improve it,” Redeker said. “It’s a good story to tell, and we can’t wait for the great things to come.”
Bradley is in a good financial situation, Redeker added. “We have a balanced budget. We’ve got a terrific new set of agreements with our air carriers. In an economy that’s been difficult, we’ve been holding our own and seen some really good movement.”
He referred to the addition of Southwest and JetBlue to Bradley’s roster of carriers and their expansion of services.
“There’s a good story to tell,” Redeker said, “and we can’t wait for the great story that’s coming.”
As for the five general aviation airports, Redeker said all of them operate in the red but have prospects for getting into the black, especially Waterbury-Oxford, “which is looking to expand . and has an opportunity to become profitable quickly.”
Economic and community development Commissioner Catherine Smith, one of the new authority’s members, said research is the first step.
“We need more data on what we actually have here and what the possibilities are, and then we need to create a marketing strategy,” Smith said.
Among those needs, she said, is “an in-depth look at area companies, where their other sites are, and what kind of traffic we can anticipate if we can serve those needs a bit more directly.”
Bradley has lots of potential, Smith said, mentioning a recent personal experience at Westchester Airport in New York City’s northern suburbs.
“I drove my car and actually couldn’t find a space to park, and they allowed me to park on the lawn,” she told the board. “That said something about the traffic at that airport that’s now coming out of New York, more likely than not because people don’t want to deal with the big airports. They want to be at smaller airports.
“Bradley is just as good if not better than Westchester,” she said, adding jocularly, “I’m hoping we have people parking on the grass here.”
A top priority, CAA Chairman Mary Ellen Jones said, is gaining new domestic flights and a resumption of direct flights to Europe, like a daily Amsterdam flight that lasted for one year until the economy and sky-high oil prices forced its cancellation.
Redeker will provide the board with a study of what it takes to set up an international service, which will be discussed at the next meeting
The authority’s immediate priorities are to make the transition from DOT controls, to satisfy Federal Aviation Administration requirements, create an operational structure, set up finance and operations procedure, and hire an executive director.
The board can use DOT staff, which has served Bradley for years, Redeker said, or it has the power to establish its own human resources, payroll, design, engineering, marketing, and other departments.
However, there are limits. Liz Donahue, the governor’s director of policy, jestingly cautioned the board, “You cannot sell the airport without the permission of the state, so no posting on eBay, that kind of thing.”
The board decided to meet monthly, with the next meeting to be scheduled for early November at Bradley.
“We’re going to be careful not to leap before we look,” Jones said. “We’re definitely in a learning phase, and then we’ll act wisely and considerately and not just try to make a splash.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)