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November 21, 2022 Economic Development Series: Week 3

Bradley International Airport aims to become a Northeast cargo hub

HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon stands outside Bradley International Airport as a plane pulls in.
HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon stands outside Bradley International Airport as a plane pulls in.

With air travel gradually ramping up again following the COVID-19 pandemic, Bradley International Airport is turning its sights on another goal: establishing the Windsor Locks-based airfield as a Northeast cargo hub.

According to data from the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) — the quasi-public state agency established in 2011 to manage and operate Bradley International Airport and the state’s five other general aviation airports — Bradley’s cargo-related revenues spiked from $6.8 million in fiscal year 2020 to almost $9.4 million in 2021.

That accounts for the largest year-over-year increase in cargo revenues in at least a decade, according to the CAA, which believes a shift in consumer spending to online shopping and e-commerce — a trend bolstered by the pandemic — will continue to boost the airport’s cargo business.

Bradley collects rental and landing fees from freight carriers that operate on its grounds. In 2022, cargo revenues were $9.3 million, still well-above historic norms.

“We think Bradley is geographically located to serve all of the Northeast as a major distribution point for air cargo coming and going from the region,” said CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon. “It’s not only an opportunity, but we feel we have a responsibility to try and exploit cargo opportunities at Bradley.”


Dillon said the CAA wants Bradley to be a regional “aerotropolis,” meaning that it serves both the air travel needs of residents and visitors in addition to being an economic generator for the area.

“Airports serve as a central hub for all sorts of economic development that radiates outward from the airport,” Dillon said.

This is where cargo capabilities come into play. According to the CAA, Bradley has approximately 3.3 million square feet dedicated to cargo operations, and there’s room to grow. Integrated carriers such as FedEx, UPS and DHL have a significant presence at Bradley.

The CAA convinced Amazon to establish air operations at Bradley about five years ago, Dillon said. The e-commerce giant operates about 90,000 square feet of cargo processing space at the airport.

Another freight service operator, Pinnacle Logistics — which ships packages for Amazon — set up shop in a 394,000-square-foot space at Bradley in 2018.

“The fact that they (Amazon) have been able to grow in Connecticut, I’d like to think, is related to the fact that they have the air capability at Bradley,” Dillon said.

Adam Winstanley

Adam Winstanley, a principal of commercial real estate development and investment firm Winstanley Enterprises, has been monitoring activity around Bradley for years. His company owns several massive warehouse properties in the region with tenants that use a mix of rail, truck and air to transport goods. COVID-19 restrictions beginning in 2020 changed everything for some companies.

“I think a lot of companies have been caught flat-footed by having too much reliance on traditional routes of transportation,” Winstanley said. “They have manufacturing in China that comes over to a U.S. port by container, then trucked out to a series of warehouses. … I think that type of supply chain has become very disruptive, and with the lockdowns in China, a lot of people couldn’t get their supply out of China so they had to switch to air cargo.”

Winstanley said that at least one of his company’s local construction projects in New Haven has had supply chain disruptions because of ground travel delays, so it has relied more on air shipping.

“There are certain times where it is hugely advantageous to have a major transportation hub because there are times when you’ll pay more to get what you need faster,” Winstanely said. “Bradley plays a very important role in the region.”

Bradley’s importance as a cargo hub has been reflected in the boom in warehouse development in Greater Hartford, particularly north of the Capital City in towns like Windsor and Enfield. New warehouse proposals have been so significant in recent years that some towns have implemented moratoriums on new construction.

The more, the better

MetroHartford Alliance President and CEO David Griggs said he’s supportive of Bradley ramping up cargo efforts over the next several years. It’s all about increasing Connecticut’s ability to compete with other states and regions, he said.

David Griggs

“The more goods that we can transport in and out of our communities the better,” Griggs said.

“Without an airport, we would not have the number of companies that we do — Bradley is an extremely important asset to the region and to our business community,” he added.

Dillon said CAA’s cargo revenues pale in comparison to passenger-service revenues, but they are just as important when it comes to establishing the airport as a regional hub for all types of economic activity. For example, establishing a local alternative for manufacturers to ship and receive parts and goods is key to helping grow that industry.

“If you look at the alternatives in the region when it comes to cargo, a lot of the large manufacturers still send their cargo out of JFK in New York,” Dillon said. “JFK, in a lot of respects, is overpriced and congested, so we think we have a real opportunity to capitalize on that here at Bradley.”

Development opportunities

The Bradley Development League is a nonprofit organization made up of representatives from the four communities surrounding the airport: East Granby, Suffield, Windsor and Windsor Locks. Parts of each town make up the Bradley Airport Development Zone, which offers tax incentives and benefits to companies looking to build in the area.

“We work to get more business development around the airport by marketing potential sites and opportunities,” said Windsor Economic Development Director Patrick McMahon.

Suffield Director of Planning and Development Bill Hawkins said the Bradley Development League targets industries that could utilize the airport and nearby advanced manufacturers.

Bill Hawkins

He said JSW Media Inc., an e-commerce company that works with Amazon, in 2019 built a facility close to the airport to make use of shipping opportunities.

In Windsor, Amazon has built or opened three facilities since 2016. The latest and largest — a 3.5-million-square-foot fulfillment center at 1215 Kennedy Road — opened recently and is currently hiring.

“I’m sure that the location decision had some aspects of Bradley being close by,” McMahon said.

Meantime, UPS is in the process of outfitting an 83,345-square-foot sorting and distribution warehouse at 120 Old County Circle in Windsor Locks.

Plans for another development — construction of a 250,240-square-foot warehouse and distribution building at 30 Hamilton Road in Windsor Locks — was approved by the town in September. The developer is New Jersey-based The Silverman Group.

“Windsor Locks can’t be beat when it comes to proximity to the airport, major highways and rail,” said Windsor Locks Director of Planning and Development Jennifer Valentino Rodriguez. “The airport is definitely an incredible draw and an influence. There are so many benefits from the increased activity, the travelers, just that visibility.”

East Granby Economic Development Director of Marketing and Commercial Real Estate Sandra Johnson said that her town is “ideally located for cargo operations” and is currently working with an existing company to expand its airport-related cargo efforts. Another company is planning to establish an East Granby presence specifically because of its adjacency to Bradley.

She said the importance of Bradley’s 10,000-foot long runway is understated: it allows the airport to receive wide-body aircraft that might not be able to land in other places.

“Unlike many other airports, Bradley has the infrastructure to support cargo operations,” Johnson said.

Winstanely said Bradley has the potential to be a regional cargo distribution hub, and he already sees evidence of that happening.

“Part of the success of distribution in Connecticut is due to the fact that we have a great airport nearby,” Winstanley said. “Without Bradley, you probably don’t see as much distribution activity that we’ve seen.”

Willing partner

Rodriguez said Windsor Locks and the Capitol Region Council of Governments are working together on a corridor study looking at development patterns along Route 20 and major intersecting streets to further assess development potential in the area. She said the CAA will be on that study committee.

Windsor’s McMahon said there are still “plenty of properties around the airport for new light industrial development, so if cargo activity increases at Bradley it could only help the four neighboring communities.”

Dillon said developing specialized logistics and cargo facilities on-site to handle specific, “sophisticated” sorting of goods like engines and large parts is something the CAA is continuing to focus on.

“We are certainly willing to partner with the cargo industry, even to the extent of developing these facilities on our dime if we can enter into the right long-term arrangement,” Dillon said. “It is a real potential line of business that presents some opportunities for us.” 

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