For Mary Ellen Jones, the challenge ahead is transforming the underperforming Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks into a crown jewel of Connecticut economic development.
As Gov. Dannel Malloy's hand-selected chairwoman of the newly formed Connecticut Airport Authority Board of Directors, Jones leads an organization designed to be more nimble and market-responsive than the bureaucracy of the airport's former taskmaster, the state Department of Transportation.
The CAA also is responsible for the state's five other general aviation airports, including Hartford-Brainard Airport.
"We want to be able to cut to the chase in a lot of areas," said Jones, who in her other life is the president of Engine Alliance, a joint General Electric and Pratt & Whitney venture based in East Hartford.
The challenges before Jones and the rest of the CAA board are large: growing passenger service; enhancing cargo service; stimulating new and existing businesses in the surrounding Bradley Enterprise Zone; servicing local corporations' needs; expanding the passenger-draw footprint; and bringing a positive perception back to a facility maligned over the past year.
While accomplishing these goals will involve many milestones in 2012 and beyond, the Holy Grail for the CAA is developing an international non-stop destination out of Bradley, likely to Europe.
"That is a real identifiable goal," Jones said.
Delta Air Lines operated a non-stop flight from Bradley to Amsterdam as late as 2009, but ceased the route as the number of passengers flying to The Netherlands didn't justify the expense.
To revive an international route, Jones said Bradley needs to consult with local corporations on where they need to fly and how many passengers they can commit to each flight. Then CAA can work with the airlines to develop a suitable international non-stop route.
"You really need to understand the requirements of your local constituents," Jones said.
Also, the key to further international and domestic non-stops is filling the position of marketing and route development director, a vital role at Bradley that has been vacant for a year. Jones also wants to hire an executive director for the CAA to have a full-time person dedicated to realizing the board's vision.
Beyond route and facility development, Bradley needs better marketing. The airport disappears in the shadow of Boston's Logan International Airport and New York City's JFK International Airport and struggles to compete with other regional facilities such as Providence's T.F. Green International Airport and the Westchester County (N.Y.) Airport.
Bradley suffered a major public relations hit in late October when 29 airplanes were diverted to Windsor Locks from other airports because of a rare snowstorm. Diverted planes sat on the tarmac unable to unload — some for as many as seven hours — as Bradley didn't have the personnel or equipment to handle the situation in a timely manner.
Despite the many challenges, Jones said the goal of turning Bradley into a vibrant economic driver is attainable. The facility doesn't have the congestion and accessibility issues of JFK and Logan. Since starting her new role, Jones has heard from several Pratt co-workers and others that they prefer to fly out of Bradley when the routes are available for the right price.
"Bradley has a lot going for it," Jones said. "It is in a nice location, and it is easy to get to."