Just as our community is challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic, so too is Connecticut’s primary airport. Bradley International Airport and our town are connected both physically and economically. The airport owns approximately 800 acres of land in Suffield. Suffield receives a payment in lieu of taxes of nearly $700,000 annually from Bradley. Hundreds of town residents are employed directly and indirectly by the airport or airport related businesses. Overall, Bradley generates $3.6 billion of economic impact annually and supports 23,000 jobs regionally.
I have had the privilege of serving on the Connecticut Airport Authority, CAA Board of Directors since its inception in 2011. I have chaired the Economic Development sub-committee three years. The management of Bradley and five airports had previously been under the direction of the CT Department of Transportation, DOT. The transition from DOT to CAA was an unqualified success. As a result, decision making, marketing and customer service improved significantly. Some of the notable accomplishments in recent years include:
The reestablishment of transatlantic service to Dublin and west coast service in the U.S. The debut of three new airlines, two of which were low-cost, which combined with overall route improvements resulted in seven consecutive years of passenger growth. If you have been in the terminal recently you have noticed construction that has been ongoing will incorporate a new ground transportation center into an improved roadway system. All of these accomplishments are reflected in three consecutive years ranking as a top five airport by Conde Nast Traveler and two bond rating upgrades by S&P Global Ratings.
A strong emphasis has been on attracting new business and jobs. Investment in existing cargo facilities led to a 24.5 percent increase in cargo traffic in 2019 which resulted in approximately 150 new jobs.
While the past five years have shown real progress, the next several years will be challenging. Prior to the pandemic, Bradley averaged 90 arriving flights per day. That number has, as of this writing, dropped to 42. At one point in April, our passenger traffic dropped by 98 percent. This number had improved to 75-80 percent in June as the state’s Covid cases stabilized. However, the Governor’s recently implemented quarantine program has the potential to reverse traffic gain. Significant flight cancellations are forthcoming. Once flights are cancelled, there is no guarantee they will be reinstated and some won’t.
An option to mitigate some of the decrease resulting from the quarantine policy would be to allow testing for passengers from “hotspot” states upon arrival at Bradley. Currently, passengers are required to be tested within 72 hours before arrival. If a passenger hasn’t been tested prior to arrival they are required to quarantine for 14 days. The CAA is also working on development of a viable testing program directly at Bradley Airport.
How it will play out for both Bradley and our country at large remains unknown. I do know we have a strong management team in place and an engaged Board of Directors working to proactively react to changing economic conditions. The next six to eight months will be rocky, but I am optimistic that we will see real progress in the second quarter of 2021.