CT Airport Authority Could Help Sikorsky Reach “Full Potential”


BRIDGEPORT – Rob Russo, co-owner of Three Wing Aviation, one of the veteran tenants of Sikorsky Memorial Airport, said the recent news that the Connecticut Airport Authority wants to get more involved in the operation of the Installation was not only welcome, but long overdue.

“There are people who have been lobbying the airport authority to get involved with this airport since its inception (the CAA),” Russo said.

But what exactly are the terms negotiated between the 10-year-old CAA and Bridgeport, and why would a deal be a good thing for the future of city-owned, Stratford-based Sikorsky?

The initial joint announcement that the authority, the administrations of Governor Ned Lamont and Mayor Joe Ganim released on Tuesday was vague, saying the parties were considering “consulting services or even entering into a rental agreement.”

In a subsequent interview with Hearst Connecticut Media, Kevin Dillon, the authority’s executive director, became more specific.

“We would enter into a long-term lease with the city and then operate the airport as one of CAA’s airports,” Dillon said.

This would be a unique arrangement for the Dillon organization, which state lawmakers created in 2011 to take on the responsibility and financial burden of running several Connecticut-owned airports, including Bradley International at Windsor Locks, away from the State Department of Transportation.

“The other airports we operate are ours. So yes, it would be a little different, ”admitted Dillon. “We at CAA haven’t ruled out the possibility of an airport acquisition (Sikorsky), but at the moment the conversation is more focused on a long-term lease.

“I would like to think that within a few months this may be over,” Dillon said. Any deal would require votes from the CAA Board of Directors and Bridgeport City Council.

Dillon said the Federal Aviation Administration should also approve a “change of sponsorship” to Sikorsky, formally recognizing authority, and not Bridgeport, as the operator.

“It just shows the FAA that we can afford to serve in this capacity,” Dillon explained. “We have already shown them that. I don’t mean to say it’s a cursory review … but I think the FAA has a lot of faith in the CAA at this point and would probably be happy to see that sponsorship change.

The FAA did not respond to questions from Hearst Connecticut as to whether it supports leadership turnover. Instead, the agency issued a brief statement that it should review the terms of any rental agreement to determine whether that ministry’s approval would be required.

As to why the authority wants to add Sikorsky to its portfolio, and how that would help Bridgeport and Sikorsky, Dillon and other supporters of the deal said it made sense for an organization with the sole mission of managing airports. and the resources to do so to bring the facility into the 21st century and revive commercial passenger service there.

Sikorsky currently offers business, charter and private flights, but has not offered regular commercial passenger service for years. Even the old terminal was demolished.

“What we all are… is what’s good for the state aviation market. We are looking to see all of these assets reach their full potential, ”said Dillon.

US Representative Jim Himes, D-Conn. Said, “I think the CAA has control of the airport… is critical. I think we all recognize that CAA has a skill set in terms of developing the airport into a really commercially attractive hub that the city does not have.

“Truly, Bridgeport Airport is the state’s airport with the most untapped potential,” Russo said. “This (the involvement of CAA) will lead to more regional coordination. The authority has the capacity to invest in the airport in an appropriate manner.

At least part of the discussion about a leadership change has been sparked by ongoing efforts to bring Breeze Airways, a new passenger carrier launched by former New Canaan resident David Neeleman, to Sikorsky.

The Ganim administration had been in talks with Breeze in 2019, but a potential deal fell apart due to the need for expensive infrastructure upgrades required by the FAA. Breeze began flying from Bradley last May, but the company then expressed to Himes and the FAA a continued interest in Sikorsky.

“I think Breeze represents a real opportunity for Sikorsky, based on the business model,” said Dillon. “(And) I think Sikorsky represents a real opportunity for them. But I think there are other carriers for which this also represents an opportunity. “

And those opportunities, Dillon continued, are to “capture this lower Fairfield County market.”

While New Haven has Tweed, another non-CAA airport where new passenger carrier Avelo launched service to Florida this month, Dillon said, after the COVID 19 pandemic, “I think Tweed and Sikorsky can certainly coexist “but” Sikorsky is becoming the best option in the state “for travel to and from the southwestern Connecticut region.

“The vast majority of people in this part of the state go out of state for their airport needs, so we think there’s a real market there,” Dillon said, adding, “And to the extent where we can import some activity from East New York, so much the better.

Himes said that while things don’t work out with Breeze and Sikorsky, “the good news is… it’s such a valuable asset that there are a number of viable ‘Plan B’s’ out there. “

While the Ganim administration has expressed interest in removing Bridgeport from airport activity shortly after his election in 2015, he is not the first mayor to want to do so.

Former Bridgeport City Council Chairman Tom McCarthy served for a decade on the Bridgeport Airport Commission, a group of City and Stratford elected officials who help oversee Sikorsky.

“The whole time that I was a member of the commission there were ongoing conversations – informal conversations – about what it would look like if there was a (private) management group coming in or the state had to buy it, ”McCarthy recalled this week.

But, he said, nothing progressed because the administration of Ganim’s predecessor, Bill Finch, was at the time focused on a long-delayed runway safety project mandated by the FAA to the following a plane crash in 1997 that killed eight of the nine people on board. These improvements finally began in 2014 and were completed in 2016 after years of delays and a long dispute between Bridgeport and Stratford over the future of the facility. Some in Stratford have long opposed anything they believe will cause increased air traffic at the facility.

Asked by Hearst in 2016 about a possible purchase of Sikorsky – the CAA had just loaned the airport a temporary manager to help carry out the runway works – Dillon had replied: “We would not be interested in paying the money for another airport that loses income. Having said that, I think with good management (Sikorsky) could be a revenue generating airport. “

Sikorsky has operated with a deficit of several hundred thousand dollars for years.

“You constantly go to the state government and the federal government for resources,” McCarthy said this week. “You would think you would be more successful if the state took the lead and had a strong interest in it.”

Dillon agreed that when it comes to securing federal funding for the infrastructure work needed to return commercial flights, CAA has a greater advantage.

“I’m not saying that, left on its own, the city wouldn’t be able to get FAA investment,” he said. “But I think there’s a level of trust that the FAA looks for. When they invest in an airport, it’s as a partner and they want to make sure their partner has the means to run the airport. and to maintain the infrastructure that they invest in. That’s where I think we bring something to the table.

Dillon said ongoing discussions about increased CAA involvement predate the global COVID-19 health crisis that hit Connecticut in March 2020.

“We had these conversations before the pandemic but, naturally, during the pandemic, they came to a screeching halt,” Dillon said. “The aviation market is coming back here in Connecticut.”

Dillon also confirmed, “We entered this discussion with the expectation that the city would be relieved of the deficit it is currently covering. This would become a responsibility of the CAA.

There are other outstanding issues, including the impact on employees, on users and on Stratford.

“Look, I’ve been in this business for a long time and I can tell you that an airport is never going to be successful if it doesn’t have a good relationship with the community,” Dillon said when asked about it. ‘Stratford location. “If we were involved in the operation of the airport, people can be assured that we would make it a priority as well. “

In a statement, Stratford Mayor Laura Hoydick’s office declined to comment on the situation until it could review the details of any deal with the CAA.

Dillon also reassured the current Sikorsky staff who are all on Bridgeport’s payroll.

“What would be important to us at CAA is job protection for everyone. No one should lose their job because of a change in governance, ”he said. “It would be our effort within CAA to make sure these employees are protected and there are a number of ways to do that. They can become CAA employees, remain city employees where the CAA can reimburse the city. There is a lot to discuss.

As for the tenants and current users of Sikorsky, Dillon said the intention was not to do all the commercial passenger service and evict everyone.

“It works for everyone,” he said. “The old adage -” a rising tide lifts all boats “- certainly applies here.”

David Faile, director of Friends of Sikorsky Airport, said he was impressed with the way the authority had handled his other properties around Connecticut – Bradley plus Danielson, Groton / New London, Hartford / Brainard, Waterbury / Oxford and Windham Airports.

He also had some issues with city surveillance, including responding to the vandalism of the new runway safety zone in early 2020, during which, according to Faile, everyone was treated as a suspect.

“They (the authority) obviously have much more resources,” Faile said. “I can’t see CAA as a bad deal. “


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