Saturday, August 5, 2017

Officials Consider Airport Of The Future At Bradley International (KBDL)

The Bradley International Airport of the not-so-distant future will feature nonstop service to international hubs like Frankfurt and London, and fly passengers to new domestic destinations from Seattle to New Orleans.

That's the goal, at least, as Bradley aims to shore up its core market, which includes Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, and southern portions of New Hampshire and Vermont.

"That's a very, very healthy market when you're talking about international travel," said Kevin Dillon, the executive director for the Connecticut Airport Authority. "The goal is to convince airlines to put flights in to serve that market that we know is flying every year, and lives closer to Hartford than they do to New York or Boston."

The potential service additions are outlined in a working paper for the airport's new master plan, which is expected to be completed later this year. The Federal Aviation Administration requires the plans, subject to the agency's approval, from airports that wish to receive federal assistance.

Dillon said the report serves more as a set of realistic objectives than a collection of actual expectations. The authority is trying to capture customers from Bradley's core area who are "leaking" to other airports in the region, according to the working paper.

"These are areas where we think the level of activity out of this region could justify service to these different locations," said Dillon.

Service to Frankfurt, for instance, was included because 250 passengers per day in Bradley's core area flew to and from Germany, Austria and Switzerland between April 2015 and March 2016.

If Bradley were to add trips to Frankfurt, therefore, it could regain the customers who are choosing other airports in the region, like Logan in Boston and JFK in New York, according to the paper's authors.

Over 1 million people in the core area take transatlantic flights every year.

Also included in the forecast are domestic additions like Seattle, which Dillon called a "primary goal," as well as Phoenix, Austin and New Orleans, among others.

The predictions are susceptible to fluctuation because the airlines, not the airport authority, ultimately decide which services to add or eliminate.

"Each airline has to control its own business, but it's up to the airport to go out to the airlines and educate them about what this market has to offer," Dillon said.

While Bradley's overall plan, which will account for the next 20 years, hasn't been completed or submitted yet, consultants said the FAA has already signed off on the forecasts that underlie the potential service additions.

Forecasting the Future

In forecasting growth for the next 20 years, CHA Consulting Inc. of Albany N.Y, which the authority hired to compute the projections, looked at recent service announcements at Bradley.

Over the past year, Aer Lingus has reintroduced transatlantic service with a daily trip to Dublin, and Norwegian Air International started flying to Edinburgh. United Airlines has added flights to San Francisco, the largest domestic market without daily Bradley service, and "ultra-low cost" carrier Spirit entered Bradley with flights to Orlando, Myrtle Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Those services, if continued and expanded, would spur further growth at Bradley, the authors argue.

CHA's forecast, therefore, accounts for 4.4 percent more growth in "enplanements" — the amount of passengers that board planes — than what Dillon described as the more conservative FAA data. The FAA, meanwhile, has already granted their approval for the airport's projections, according to Paul McDonnell, CHA's senior principal planner for aviation.

According to one scenario under the forecast, Allegiant Airlines could begin less-than-daily service to New Orleans, Savannah, Myrtle Beach and Austin next year, while American Airlines would start taking passengers to Phoenix.

Alaska Airlines would pick up the daily Seattle route, and Condor Airlines would add a transatlantic trip to Bradley's route map, with service to Frankfurt threes times per week.

New Orleans, Austin, Phoenix and Seattle are all in the top 10 largest domestic markets that don't currently have service to Bradley.

Most Bradley flights are more than 90 percent full, Dillon said, and percentages in the mid-80s are considered strong. The airlines themselves said Bradley flights were meeting expectations, if not soaring past them.

Aer Lingus brought transatlantic flights back to Bradley when it launched its Dublin service last September. The CAA and the state gave the airline a package of incentives and fee waivers to launch the service.

In a statement, the Irish airline said the route, though "still very much in start-up mode," is "performing to Aer Lingus's standards and will return again to a daily schedule for summer 2018." The company declined to say when it will decide whether to continue service beyond next year.

Spirit Airlines said it is "pleased with our performance" in Hartford. The low-cost carrier will begin a winter service in November with daily flights to Fort Myers and Tampa daily, and it will run through mid-April.

And United Airlines said in a statement it continually reviews market supply and demand to adjust services. "This route (San Francisco) is currently meeting our expectations," the airline said.

An Update From 2005

This is the first master plan compiled by Bradley since 2005, in which the airport, then under the control of the Department of Transportation, laid out its vision to replace the Murphy Terminal, construct another parking garage with 3,500 spaces and expand the number of gates.

Twelve years later, the Murphy Terminal was demolished but has not been replaced, and the parking garage never came to fruition. As Dillon points out, the plan was compiled before the 2008 recession, and before airline consolidation dramatically altered the industry.

The new plan was devised as a way to update the projections and needs of the airport in the new, post-consolidation era, officials said.

"There's been a lot of changes in the airline industry since that last master plan," Dillon said.

Other aspects of the master plan will address the needs and timeline of the airport's physical expansions for the next 20 years.

Dillon identified a planned transportation center as one of the largest upcoming projects.

The center will consolidate rental car services closer to the actual building and include as many as 900 parking spaces. It could break ground in the late spring, Dillon said. The CAA also envisions possible bus routes to the Windsor Locks stop on the new Hartford Line, which runs from New Haven to Springfield. In the future, those buses could be replaced by a light rail service, which would further connect the airport to the region.

The CAA is anticipating the construction will last for two to three years, Dillon said.

An additional terminal will also eventually be necessary, Dillon said. The updated projections for demand will shed more light on its timing, he said.

"Over time," Dillon said, "all of these pieces will come together to form the full plan," which will be released upon FAA approval. That could come sometime around April of next year.

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