May 7, 2012 | last updated June 4, 2012 12:09 pm

Airport upgrades arriving soon

PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
PHOTO/PABLO ROBLES
Mary Ellen Jones, the chairwoman of the Connecticut Airport Authority, expects to hire an executive director by early June.

By early June, the Connecticut Airport Authority expects to announce its first executive director, the start of a line of pending improvements, possibly including a new terminal at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.

"When that person does come on board, he or she will have an integral role in shaping the authority," said Mary Ellen Jones, chairwoman of the Connecticut Airport Authority. "We want them to be able to hit the ground running on the revenue producing objectives."

The Connecticut General Assembly created the airport authority in 2011 to be a more nimble and more-responsive administrator of Bradley and the state's general aviation airports than the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Since first meeting in October, the authority has dealt with procedural issues while leaving the larger tasks — hiring a route development director, addressing the new terminal — for after an executive director is hired.

The authority hired Chicago executive search firm Spencer Stuart to conduct a nationwide search for an executive director, and the authority members have narrowed the search to several promising candidates, Jones said. The main criteria for the position are someone with strong airport experience, skilled in change management, and an ability to go out in the community and meet legislators.

"We really need someone who can be more dedicated to the airport full-time," Jones said.

In anticipation of an announcement in early June, the authority has been working to clear some of transitional issues out of the way, including hiring Hartford law firm Pullman & Comley to deal with transitioning power from the DOT to the authority, working on the necessary approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

To cover some of the most-needed issues in the meantime, the authority paid $137,800 for marketing consultant Dan Carstens to promote Bradley and the general aviation airports.

"We want to let the airlines know Bradley is definitely interested in growth," Jones said.

Bradley has been without a marketing and route development director since January 2011, a key position that helps bring new airlines, routes and attention to the airport.

The goals of the new authority revolve around raising revenue out of the state's aviation facilities, including commercial and cargo business, Jones said. Capital projects such addition of a new Bradley terminal will help toward those goals and boost the economic impact of the airport.

"The Bradley Development League is very supportive of improvements to the airport, and what it means for the future growth of the surrounding area," said Jim Burke, economic development director for Windsor, one of the four member communities of the Bradley business district.

The proposed new terminal would come to fruition in a minimum of four years, if the authority is able to make a business argument for the facility and the state signs off on the expense.

In 2009, the Department of Transportation forecasted Bradley would need an addition three or four gates to accommodate passenger demand by 2018. However, Bradley has those gates available at its existing terminal, and even more might open up because of airline mergers.

If approved, the new terminal would replace the former Murphy Terminal with two main concourses, 19 gates for international and domestic flights, an integrated baggage system, and a central security checkpoint. Necessary construction includes the demolition of the Murphy Terminal, building new roadways, and environmental remediation.

The cost of those enabling projects is estimated at $50 million, and the total cost of the construction of the new terminal itself would be a function of its size and the time it is built.

One of the main benefits of the new terminal would be its ability to handle international flights, something the existing terminal can't accommodate. The last international route from Bradley flew to Amsterdam in 2009.

A main goal of the Connecticut Airport Authority is an international flight operating out of Bradley, as it would boost the status and the revenue for the airport.

"A key objective of the authority is to raise revenue," Jones said. "Ideally, yes, we would like to go ahead with plans for a new terminal, but we have to make sure we can make a business case for all our capital projects."

Making that business case starts with having an executive director who can advocate for all the upgrades that Bradley needs, Jones said. Once that hire happens by early June, the ball will start rolling.

The Connecticut Airport Authority was formed to inject new life into the state's airports and the marketing of those airports, with the goal of helping them reach their full potential as Connecticut economic drivers.

Jones said she is encouraged by the enthusiasm displayed over the first six months since the authority first met. All the meetings have been well-attended, and the members are engaged.

"I really feel the momentum," Jones said.

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