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Dutch Retreat

Grounding the Hartford-Amsterdam flight may hurt business recruiting

By Jason Millman

October 06, 2008

Russell Tweeddale could hardly believe the news when he heard in June that Northwest Airlines’ flight between Bradley International Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport would be coming to an end.

“I was livid,” said Tweeddale, managing director of investments for Connecticut Innovations.

When Bradley’s daily flight to Amsterdam touched down for the final time last week, Tweeddale — like many others in Hartford’s business community — mourned the loss of what many had come to believe was a great tool to recruit European businesses to the state.

In just 15 months, the flight was helping Greater Hartford establish itself as a practical option for European companies looking to expand in the United States to take advantage of the declining relative value of the dollar.

However, as airlines started to cut back on long-haul flights in response to soaring jet fuel prices in June, Northwest announced the cancellation of the region’s first and only regularly scheduled direct trans-Atlantic flight.

“I think we’ve lost a lot of momentum by Northwest dropping that flight,” said Tweeddale, who said he made three trips on the Amsterdam flight since it first took off July 1, 2007. “All the arguments put forward were the convenience and quickness of taking that flight.”

Tweeddale said the flight played a “vital role” in his efforts to attract European technology companies to choose the Greater Hartford region as the location for their U.S. headquarters. The Amsterdam flight, coupled with the strong concentration of technology companies along the Interstate 91 corridor, were key selling points, he said.

The Connecticut/Westchester chapter of CoreNet, which touts itself as the world’s leading professional association for corporate real estate and workplace executives, had started to make important inroads with companies close to Schiphol, said Sandra Johnson, CoreNet board director and MetroHartford Alliance vice president and business development officer. Had it not been for the flight, contact with these companies never would have been made in the first place, Johnson said.

“When we started the flight, we had some dialogue with Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands,” Johnson said. “We were going to be having some kind of visit and looking for the potential for business exchange. There never would have been the outreach had there not been a flight.”

Schiphol Meeting Place

Johnson said a business center within Schiphol Airport was an obvious and convenient place for Connecticut companies to meet with potential European partners.

“It’s regrettable that the Bradley flight between Amsterdam and Hartford has stopped,” said Ingrid Pouw, Schiphol director of corporate communications, pointing out that Stamford-based IJS Global Inc. has maintained an Amsterdam office within the airport since 2006. “We had a good relationship and positive experiences with the Hartford business community, so it’s a pity.”

Since Northwest dropped the flight in June, Kiran Jain, Bradley director of marketing and route development, said she has been aggressively pursuing other airlines to bring in a new trans-Atlantic flight. Jain declined to comment on the status of those efforts, saying they are “fragile negotiations.”

“We are fully engaged [in talks],” Jain said.

Northwest cut the flight at a time when jet fuel prices were hovering around $140 a barrel. Since then, the cost has come down a bit to just under $125 as of Sept. 19, according to the International Air Transport Association’s latest report.

It was a tough summer for Bradley, as the airport also lost its only nonstop flights to Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio.

Most Seats Filled

Jain, as well as many others in the business community, believes the Amsterdam flight’s track record is evidence of the demand for a trans-Atlantic flight to and from Hartford. The 160-seat 757 was usually close to 80 percent full, Jain said.

The Amsterdam flight had become a favorite among United Technologies Corp. executives who used it to travel to the conglomerate’s numerous European offices, said Scott Gaskill, UTC director of supply management.

“If there was another flight to another European hub, I think the Hartford business community would support it,” Gaskill said.

Despite the loss of the flight, it is important for Connecticut companies to maintain the business connections they had formed during its 15-month tenure, said Anne Evans, district director of the U.S. Commercial Service.

Although the region lost its only nonstop flight to Europe, trans-Atlantic flights continue to be available through Boston’s Logan Airport and New York’s JFK International Airport, though the convenience factor takes a huge hit.

“It is sad, but it doesn’t mean Connecticut is wiped off the map,” Evans said. “If we start talking like that, then what is that going to say? If we still continue to support the connections, then another airline is going to look at us again.”

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