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Bradley Seating Capacity Dives

Plenty Want To Fly, But Airlines Cutting Number Who Can

November 17, 2006
By LYNN DOAN, Courant Staff Writer

WINDSOR LOCKS -- Passenger traffic at Bradley International Airport reached record heights last year, but airlines are now cutting the number of seats those passengers can sit in, airport officials announced Thursday.

The 18 percent drop in seating capacity, announced during the monthly meeting of the airport's board of directors, is largely attributed to American Airlines, which has replaced some of its planes with smaller ones at Bradley, sending the larger ones off to airports with more international flights, officials said. Carriers such as Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines are also canceling service on days and during seasons of low demand to maximize profits.

The fallout, airport officials said, is that passenger traffic at the airport has fallen by about 5 percent compared with the same time last year, mainly a result of the switch to smaller planes and reduced service.

The number of passenger seats departing from Bradley dropped from 176,161 seats in June 2005 to 145,100 seats this June, officials said - the first decline since a reduction in service following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"Is there an impact on passenger volume? Yes," said Kiran Jain, Bradley's marketing director. "You're giving customers fewer seats, and when you start pushing people onto different flights, maybe they're not going to come here at all. Maybe they'll go to another airport."

The drop is similar to those seen at other small and medium-size airports, including T.F. Green International Airport in Providence, as airlines shift their focus to more profitable international flights, industry experts said.

"The U.S. airline industry is indeed focusing on international service because there's less competition and there's higher yield," said Matthew Andersson, an aviation consultant based in Chicago.

Andersson, who founded Indigo Airlines, a business jet airline, said low-cost carriers have cut fares on domestic flights to the point where domestic aviation has become a "marginal business."

"This is a huge, huge problem that is going to become one of national significance," he said. "Americans are going to have a difficult time flying domestically as the airlines desperately seek whatever alternative may be available to them at the moment for revenue enhancement."

The bad news for Bradley comes one month after the airport acquired its first scheduled transatlantic flight, Northwest Airlines service to and from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands beginning July 2007.

Jain told the airport's board of directors Thursday that she plans to meet with individual airlines to talk about their strategic plans and Bradley's growing market in hopes of preventing them from pulling more capacity from the airport.

"In the last two years, we've been pushing to bring new airlines here, and the contact with the airlines already here has really been over the phone," Jain said. "We need to start up a dialogue with them so they get a better feel for our market."

Mike Long, a member of Bradley's board of directors, described the capacity issue as a "conundrum," because passenger traffic is expected to increase at the airport over the next 15 years.

"If the airlines are pulling aircrafts out that can handle additional passengers, then where are we?" he asked. "Can we go to the airlines and say, `Hey guys, we need those aircrafts here?' I don't know what we can do."

With airlines preparing for even more capacity reductions, the time for dialogue may have already passed.

In September, American Airlines replaced four of its 136-seat aircraft flying to Chicago with six 50-seat aircraft, cutting capacity by 244 seats. Southwest Airlines eliminated one of four nonstop flights to Philadelphia. In the last year, Delta and Continental have both reduced certain services during low-demand seasons, including flights to Las Vegas and Houston.

Delta is also planning to replace some of its large aircraft with smaller ones to make room for international flights, Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin said.

"We need to put the right size airplane in the right markets at the right time to make sure we're maximizing profitability," Laughlin said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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