WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. -- Bradley International Airport saw more than 6 million passengers in 2016 and could grow to 10 million passengers annually within the next few years, according to Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority.
That's with or without the addition of casino gambling, a proposal that seems to have stalled for the airport, which is located about a half-hour's drive south of Springfield, where the MGM Springfield casino is under construction.
Bradley had just under 5 million arriving and departing passengers in 2015. The increase reflects not only more people on existing flights but also new flights to Pittsburgh, Denver, Los Angeles and - in a major coup - Dublin via Aer Lingus.
Less than three weeks ago, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the airport authority also welcomed Spirit Airlines to Bradley, bring on board flights to South Carolina and Florida that launch in late April.
"Bradley International Airport is a major economic driver for Connecticut, and it continues to be a player in our efforts to grow our economy, boost tourism, and improve our transportation system," Malloy said. "The addition of Spirit Airlines gives residents and businesses in our region another option in a growing, diversified selection of airlines that are servicing our region's largest airport, and we welcome them to our state."
An improving economy and low fuel prices have airlines expanding, adding service in hopes of building market share in a competitive environment.
Further developments -- like even more transatlantic flights by TAP Portugal or Norwegian Air Shuttle -- are possibilities for 2017.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, which just won permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to expand its American service, has said it will add flights to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, about 60 miles north of Manhattan. The airline will also add service to either Portsmouth International in New Hampshire or T.F. Green International in Rhode Island.
Norwegian doesn't just fly to Norway, but also to a number of European destinations.
Bradley International Airport hopes to grow to 10 million passengers a year. It had about 6 million travelers in 2016.
"We are talking to a lot of carriers. We are looking to increase the route map and increase the number of seats on existing routes," Dillon said in an interview. "I think that is one of the benefits of being able to attract Aer Lingus here. It's elevated the status of the airport."
But he couldn't confirm specifics about Norwegian Air or TAP Portugal without a signed agreement in place.
In August, Bradley officials said they'd decided against having a casino at a location they'd proposed, but were open to the idea of hosting legal gaming elsewhere on the site. A Bradley casino would help the Connecticut casinos compete with MGM Springfield and bring in revenue for the Connecticut Airport Authority. MGM opposes those plans.
Aer Lingus to Dublin: Nearly 4,000 passengers flew Aer Lingus from Bradley to Dublin in the first six weeks the service was offered, according to passenger data available from Bradley.
The flights, which began in September, marked the return of transatlantic service to Bradley for the first time since Northwest scrapped its Amsterdam flights in 2008. Aer Lingus touts the service as a gateway to Europe with connections available to 25 cities as far east as Warsaw.
Bradley is sure the flights will fill up in summer as vacationers take off for the Emerald Isle and to Europe beyond. Dillon and others are working with corporate travelers to help fill the slower-selling winter flights.
Airlines like Aer Lingus need a load factor of at least 85 percent in order to run a route economically. That means on the Boeing 757 airliners Aer Lingus uses here, executives expect that at least 153 seats will be filled.
The state of Connecticut made revenue guarantees of $9 million over two years to Aer Lingus to get the airline into Bradley. That means the state makes up the difference if Aer Lingus ticket revenue doesn't meet benchmarks.
OneJet to Pittsburgh: OneJet began weekday nonstop service to Pittsburgh International Airport in May. The regional carrier uses leased corporate jets.
United Airlines to Denver: United Airlines started flying nonstop to Denver, also in May. The airline uses an Airbus 319 with 128 seats.
American Airlines to Los Angeles: American started flying nonstop to Los Angeles June 2 using 150-seat Boeing 737 aircraft.
Bradley amenities that opened in 2016:
A mothers' nursing room gives women a private place to feed their babies.
Phillips Seafood restaurant is part of a nationwide chain with locations in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and elsewhere.
The Escape Lounge is Bradley's answer to the first-class lounges available in larger airports.
International Shoppes now runs a duty free shop near Gate 8. Passengers on the flights to Dublin, Toronto, Montreal and the seasonal flights to Cancun in Mexico can buy goods free of customs duties and from liquor and tobacco taxes.
The airport offers two charging stations in its cellphone lot so travelers with electric cars can get a charge.
Baby on the Go vending machines sell diapers, wipes and other infant essentials.
An OpticWash kiosk in the concourse is like a car wash for your glasses, jewelry or water-resistant cellphone.
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