Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

April 29, 2024

International travel, cargo expansions could be points of emphasis in a post-Kevin Dillon Airport Authority

HBJ FILE PHOTO Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon said he’s confident Bradley International Airport will regain an important international flight as the airport recovers from pandemic-related groundings.

Outgoing Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) Executive Director Kevin Dillon said there’s potential to grow the state’s commercial airport system through expanded corporate travel, new international routes and cargo-related efforts at Bradley International Airport.

After almost 50 years in the aviation industry, and the last dozen as the state’s top airport official, Dillon recently announced he’s retiring as executive director of the quasi-public airport authority in January 2025. A national search is planned to find his successor.

Dillon, who was appointed the CAA’s first executive director in 2012, helped transition Bradley International and five other state airports from the control of the Connecticut Department of Transportation to the newly established quasi-public agency.

With seven months to go in his tenure at the authority, Dillon said Bradley is poised to be a medium-sized airport hub that can compete locally with larger competitors in Boston and New York.

“When you talk about the future, I’ve always felt that Bradley could be a 10-million passenger airport,” Dillon said. “It’s simply a matter of keeping the momentum going on route development, and bringing in new airline partners.”

Growth at Bradley

Bradley Airport has seen consecutive years of passenger growth as transatlantic and West Coast services expand, and more low-cost carriers operate out of the Windsor Locks airfield. The CAA said recently that there’s been a more than 35% increase in nonstop flight destinations during Dillon’s time at the agency.

In 2023, Bradley Airport reported 6.24 million passengers, up 7.8% from 2022. That was the largest passenger tally since the 2020 pandemic. However, that total was still 7.5% below 2019’s passenger count of 6.75 million.

Bradley last year had 6.13 million domestic flight passengers, 107,686 international passengers, and nearly 2,000 passengers who took charter flights.

Dillon said adding new routes from Bradley, specifically international service, is crucial to keep local passengers “at home.” The CAA is currently working to establish nonstop service from Bradley to London, and Dillon said he’d like to see the authority continue to expand internationally after he’s gone.

Dillion was a key player in establishing Bradley’s only existing nonstop, transatlantic flight to Dublin, Ireland, which is operated by Aer Lingus.

But larger airports in New York and Boston will always have an edge in terms of flight options, so Bradley has to focus on its strengths to compete, Dillon said.

“Bradley, even at 10 million passengers, will never have the root structure of JFK (in New York). It’ll never have the root structure of a Boston-Logan. But those airports will never have the convenience that we’ve developed at Bradley Airport, and that really has been a hallmark of our success.”

Customer service improvements

That’s where facility expansions and upgrades come into play. Bradley has two major capital projects — with a combined price tag of $250 million — that will be completed shortly after Dillon retires, he said.

The first project will add an 80,000-square-foot checked-baggage inspection system behind the Sheraton Hotel.

Once the new system is in operation, current explosive-detection machines located in the airport’s main terminal lobby will be relocated. That will free up space for current and future airlines and create additional gate space for aircraft, Dillon said.

A separate, 22,000-square-foot addition will add new corridors on both sides of Bradley’s main terminal, which will give passengers a faster and more direct route to baggage claim in the lower level of the airport. The project will also allow for an expansion of the current TSA security checkpoint area, Dillon said.

“They’re all oriented towards improvement in customer service, and improvement in the capacity of the terminal building,” Dillon said.

Tony Sheridan

Tony Sheridan, chair of the CAA’s board of directors, agreed with the emphasis on customer service, and said Bradley has repeatedly ranked among the top airports in the country in terms of ease and comfort in traveling.

“When renovations get designed, it’s done with the customer in mind,” Sheridan said.

Looking further down the line, Dillon said additional gate space and another terminal will eventually be needed at Bradley, especially if it reaches that 10 million passenger level. But those are expensive projects, and the two ongoing facility upgrades are enough to help the airport become more efficient without fully breaking the bank.

“If you were to construct a new terminal building to enhance the capacity, you’re talking well over $1 billion to do that,” Dillon said. “But do I believe that may be necessary in the future? Yes, I do foresee down the road that a second terminal building would be constructed at Bradley Airport.”

While it’s not a huge revenue driver compared to commercial passenger service, Dillon said cargo-related business activity at Bradley will be important to the state in future years. While other airports lack space to expand their cargo operations and regional warehouses, Bradley and surrounding towns have open land to accommodate growth.

“It’s a huge generator of employment — when you think of the logistics chain that is behind cargo movement, it generates a lot of jobs,” Dillon said.

Other airports

Bradley gets a lot of the headlines, but the CAA operates five other general aviation airports in the state: Danielson; Groton-New London; Hartford-Brainard; Waterbury-Oxford; and Windham.

Like Bradley, Groton-New London Airport also has the required federal certification for commercial flights.

“That’s an effort that I would like to see continue on in the organization: that hopefully at some point, some level of commercial passenger service could be brought to Groton-New London Airport,” Dillon said.

The recent growth of Tweed New Haven Airport, which the CAA doesn’t operate, and T.F. Green International Airport in Rhode Island, makes those efforts more difficult, Dillon admitted, but he “still thinks there’s a real opportunity to service the business community that’s located in” the southeastern part of the state.

Sheridan said he’d like to see service from Groton-New London Airport to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Corporate-related aviation at Waterbury-Oxford has expanded over the past several years, and Dillon said there is more room to grow that capacity simply because it’s cheaper to fly in and out of Connecticut than some neighboring states. Waterbury-Oxford Airport is currently in the middle of an investment deal with private aviation company Clay Lacy, which is building a new $40 million full-service, fixed-base operator and corporate hangar facility set to open later this year.

Finding a successor

Sheridan, who is also president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said the CAA’s board has been discussing the succession process internally for several months, and will conduct a nationwide search for Dillon’s replacement.

The job hasn’t been advertised yet, but Sheridan said it’d be ideal to have someone named for the role before Dillon retires, to make for a smoother transition. Regardless, Dillon has agreed to be available to the board as a consultant following his departure.

“He has done a marvelous job for us, so we’ll certainly miss his guidance, but there’s a lot of good talent out there, and we need to do a thorough search and make sure we get the right person,” Sheridan said.

Dillon said the CAA board is aware of the experience needed to be successful in the position: he’s held leadership roles at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Massachusetts Port Authority, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, and Rhode Island Airport Corp.

An understanding of aviation finance, operations and regulations as well as airfield and facility development are crucial to the position, Dillon said. While the search for his successor will be nationwide, Dillon said he wouldn’t be surprised to see someone from Bradley’s existing senior staff rise to the position.

“I do think the board has a very good handle on the type of person that they’re going to need to bring in to continue to lead the organization,” Dillon said.

Sign up for Enews

0 Comments

Order a PDF