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December 2, 2013

Bradley seeks longer reach in 2014

Photo | HBJ File Bradley's milestone goal remains international nonstop service to either London or a destination on the European continent.
Kevin Dillon, Executive Director, The Connecticut Airport Authority

North Carolina. Ohio. California. Europe.

The Connecticut Airport Authority has some lofty destination goals in 2014 for Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. All those goals might not be realized next year, but the authority will be well on the way to fulfilling them, said CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon.

“We want to offer our customers the best amount of direct services,” Dillon said. “We continue to chase the international service.”

In its first year under the CAA, Bradley in 2013 made some significant enhancements to its route structure. The highlight was American Airlines launching nonstop service to Los Angeles in August, with flights 87 percent sold in the first three months.

In September — the first full month after the launch of the L.A. nonstop — Bradley's passenger counts increased 0.8 percent. However, the airport is still facing declining passenger counts for the year, down 1.9 percent in the first nine months of 2013 compared to the same time period in 2012.

Southwest Airlines added nonstop service to Atlanta while JetBlue added nonstops to Fort Myers and Tampa, Florida. These new flights, which launched in October, create competition for existing flights from Delta Air Lines and Southwest.

“We want to make a big push here to bring our fares as low as possible,” said Dillon, noting that fares out of Bradley are down 4 percent year-over-year, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.

Looking out to 2014, Dillon sees possibilities of more West Coast connections, likely to San Francisco and San Diego, saying the airport needs more nonstop service west of the Mississippi River.

CAA also plans to enhance Bradley's eastern route structure by targeting markets like Raleigh, N.C. and Columbus, Ohio.

The major milestone for the CAA remains a year-round international flight to Europe, Dillon said. Bradley hasn't had one since Delta ceased its Amsterdam nonstop in 2008.

“That would elevate us in a way that we would be viewed as a true international city,” said Oz Griebel, CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance. “That has been on the top of our list for awhile.”

Dillon hopes to start international charter service out of Bradley to Europe in 2014, hopefully paving the way for regular commercial service thereafter.

Despite the L.A. nonstop and the dropping fares, Dillon said the single biggest accomplishment of 2013 was the CAA taking over full control of Bradley and the state's five general aviation airports.

Even though the state legislature created the CAA board of directors in 2011 and Dillon was named executive director in 2012, the process of transferring control of the airport from the state Department of Transportation wasn't complete until July 1.

“The fact that the airport is a separate agency is the single-most important thing that happened in 2013,” Griebel said.

Since launching in 2011 and taking over complete control in 2013, the CAA has prioritized making Bradley more market responsive and customer-service oriented.

That plan includes adding more concessions and shops to the two concourses at the airport, Dillon said. As of Jan. 1, Bradley will have 21 different concessionaires.

“We want to focus not only on national brands, but we also want to focus on local brands,” Dillon said.

By the end of the year, high-end electronics concession InMotion Entertainment will open at the concourse used by Southwest, Delta, and JetBlue. In early 2014, a similarly-themed, currently unnamed store will open at the other concourse used by American, United, and U.S. Airways.

In November, Bradley added a frequent parker program with credit-card billing so business and leisure travelers who use the airport regularly will have less hassle in using the parking facilities. In the first month after the launch, the frequent parker program has 800 enrollees, said John Wallace, an airport spokesman.

“We really want to be known for our level of customer service here at the airport,” Dillon said.

In August, Dillon said the CAA will begin demolition of the old Murphy Terminal, which sits adjacent to the current active terminal. The completion date of that project, which includes realigning the roadway, still is undetermined, but the removal of the deteriorating facility is important to building Bradley's reputation as a world-class facility, Dillon said.

“That terminal is right on the front door of this airport, and for many travelers, the front door of Connecticut,” Dillon said.

Griebel said the MetroHartford Alliance and the Greater Hartford business community have been pleased with the progress made by the CAA since its inception, noting the strong leadership of Dillon and CAA Chairwoman Mary Ellen Jones.

“The team that has been assembled at the airport is second-to-none,” Griebel said. “It has put the airport in a solid position for the future, and a lot of people in the private sector are behind it.”

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