FAA's On Board As Airport Anticipates Dramatic Growth
July 29, 2006
By ERIC GERSHON, Courant Staff Writer
With passenger traffic at Bradley International Airport expected to grow dramatically in the next two decades, the state on Friday received federal approval for its latest airport development plan, which proposes replacing the obsolete Murphy Terminal.
The total cost for all projects in the plan could exceed $500 million, according to the draft submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration.
A long-contemplated new terminal could be finished by 2014, according to Richard Jaworski, the state's head of aviation and ports.
Under the plan, approved by the FAA, Bradley would increase the number of arrival and departure gates, reserving at least two slots for international flights. Attracting airline service to Europe is one of the airport's major goals.
The airport also would build a 3,500-space parking garage next to one of similar size that opened in 2001.
Officials described the development plan projects as preliminary and said changes in the economy could force revisions. But they have begun seeking a consultant to help evaluate the most appropriate size, location and design of new facilities, and to prepare better cost estimates. The master plan's "preferred alternative" would put a new terminal west of the existing Terminal A, in space now occupied by the Murphy Terminal, or Terminal B, which was completed in 1952.
"The biggest factor is going to be the financial end of the project," said L. Scott Frantz, chairman of Bradley's board of directors. "It's critical that we live within our means."
According to the draft, which was provided by the Department of Transportation, the projects suggested in the master plan would be funded in part by general revenue bonds - meaning they would be paid back by airport-generated revenue. The bond issues would require approval of the State Bond Commission, which is headed by the governor.
Like most U.S. airports, Bradley lost passenger volume after 9/11. Recently, however, passenger growth at the airport has exploded, increasing last year by more than 9 percent, an all-time record. This contrasts with the national average of 3 percent to 4 percent, said Stephen Van Beek, vice president for policy at Airports Council International, a trade group.
By 2022, the number of people boarding planes annually at Bradley is expected to rise above six million. That compares with 3.7 million in 2005, according to figures provided by the airport. In that same period, Southwest Airlines alone is expected to more than triple the number of scheduled departures it had at the end of last year, the draft plan shows.
Jaworski said it would be "irresponsible" not to prepare for these expectations.
Given Bradley's impact on the Connecticut economy, particularly in the Hartford region, service improvements make sense, said Fred Carstensen, director of UConn's Center for Economic Analysis.
"You want the quickest way to generate job growth in Connecticut?" he said. "Upgrade Bradley."
One million new passengers a year would translate into 10,000 new jobs in the state, he said.
But Carstensen questions the degree to which new terminal facilities would drive passenger volume. Persuading air carriers to offer scheduled service to Europe is a better bet, he said, adding that additional runways are more likely to entice them. The latest master plan calls for no new runways by 2022.
Others emphasize that travelers have come to expect airports to offer amenities - a variety of stores and conveniences, even some luxury services - along with reasonable fares and frequent departures to numerous destinations. Those that do could win passengers from competing airports.
"If you lived in New London or Willington, you might be debating, `Do I go to Providence or Hartford?'" said David Kilbon, East Granby's first selectman and a member of Bradley's board. "We want to make sure that people that are weighing that decision decide in Bradley's favor."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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