Will more competition make CT’s Bradley and Tweed airports ‘two sick puppies’?

Connecticut’s flagship airport saw passenger traffic jump 57% year-over-year in the first half of 2022. But the head of the organization that owns and operates Connecticut’s flagship airport isn’t celebrating those numbers .

On the contrary, Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon is concerned about recent trends, particularly the drop in passenger turnout in the spring. And a big source of his unease relates to the growing activity at the airport about 55 miles south of Bradley, based at Windsor Locks.

Tweed-New Haven Airport is experiencing a revitalization since the new Avelo Airlines launched the service there last November. Dillon expressed concerns about the growing overlap of airport routes and Tweed’s plans to extend its runway and build a new terminal. But Tweed officials and other aviation experts say there is enough customer demand for both airports to thrive, while Bradley and Tweed management teams have expressed a willingness to communicate more in order to improve relations between airports.

“We have to be very careful how the aviation market here in Connecticut is run,” Dillon said in an interview. “We don’t want to do things that harm Tweed’s abilities and vice versa. When you look at Connecticut’s aviation market, it’s a healthy market, but it’s still a relatively small market. We have to make sure we don’t end up with two “sick puppies”.

More service at Tweed equals more competition with Bradley?

About 2.7 million travelers passed through Bradley from January to June, compared to 1.7 million during the same period in 2021, according to CAA data.

By late spring, however, increased service at Tweed began to noticeably affect passenger numbers at Bradley, according to Dillon. After month-on-month increases in each of the first four months of this year, the total number of passengers at Bradley fell by 7%, from 544,531 in April to 505,328 in May, then from 3% from the May total to 487,653 in June. The decline in the second quarter contributed to an 18% lag between the first-half 2022 total and its passenger count of around 3.3 million during the same period in 2019.

“It was in May that Tweed’s schedule really started to pick up speed,” Dillon said. “There is a lot of overlap between the services they provide and the services we provide. Tweed therefore has the effect of driving some passengers away from Bradley.

At the separately owned and operated Tweed, from last November to mid-July there were 112,019 “boardings,” which refer to departing passengers, according to airport data. By comparison, Tweed recorded an annual average of 35,213 boardings from 2010 to 2019. Including arrivals, the total number of passengers who have passed through the airport in the past nine months is “well over 250,000”, according to Tweed executive director Sean Scanlon.

Tweed’s comeback has been catalyzed by it becoming a hub for the new Avelo Airlines, which launched flights from Tweed last November. The June 30 launch of a route to Wilmington, North Carolina marked the airline’s 14th and final nonstop destination from Tweed.

Today, Avelo is the only carrier operating in Tweed. Prior to Avelo’s arrival, American Airlines had for many years been the only carrier operating in Tweed, but service to New Haven ended last September.

“I see it as we present more choices to people in Connecticut. I just think it’s a really good thing,” Scanlon, who is also a state representative for Branford and Guilford and the Democratic nominee for state comptroller in this year’s election, said in a statement. interview. “Bradley will always be Connecticut’s primary airport. They will always have many more options than we ever will or want.

While Tweed serves 14 nonstop destinations – all in the eastern half of the United States, including six in Florida – Bradley offers nonstop service to around 40 cities in the United States, as well as flights to Toronto and Cancún, in the United States. Mexico. Its list of routes continues to grow, highlighted by the announcement last Thursday of a new route to Montego Bay, Jamaica
. Among other additions, the new Breeze Airways announced in February that it would establish a base of operations in Bradley, with plans to create more than 200 jobs and eight routes at the airport.

But Dillon still sees Tweed as a strong contender. Each of Tweed’s nonstop destinations, with the exception of the Wilmington, North Carolina route, is also served by flights from Bradley.

Compared to Bradley, “Tweed duplicates about 38% of the market in terms of routes,” Dillon said. “As far as where Tweed passengers come from, only about 2% come from New York. The others are withdrawn from Bradley’s market. »

Scanlon has a very different assessment of the Connecticut aviation market.

“We did a lot of research on this,” Scanlon said. “We think our market, or ‘catchment area’, is around 1 million people. And that’s roughly New Haven County, northern Fairfield County, in the Middletown area, then maybe east of where I live – like Madison, Clinton, and Westbrook. It’s closer for them to come to us than to go to Providence, Bradley or New York. We believe that one million people was one of the most underserved catchment areas in all of the United States.

Along with Scanlon’s outlook, other industry experts said Tweed and Bradley played different roles that would allow the two airports to thrive.

“New Haven is a niche airport with nonstop point-to-point service to several, primarily leisure, destinations. Bradley owns all 10 airlines, and they, combined, provide access to 19 – count them, 19 – major connecting hubs operated by American, Delta, United and Southwest,” Michael Boyd, co-founder and president of Evergreen , Colorado. aviation consulting and forecasting firm Boyd Group International and a former station manager at Bradley for Braniff International, said in an email. “So for consumers to exit or enter the area, the majority will be in Bradley.”

Looking for more growth

Tweed intends to increase its reach further, with plans to lengthen its runway and build a new terminal. To facilitate these upgrades, the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority last month approved a new 43-year lease and management agreement with a subsidiary of its long-standing contract operator, Avports.

“The first year of this (Avelo service) proved that the market is there,” Scanlon said. “Over the next few years, we’ll do what we can to grow responsibly and provide even more choices for people in southern Connecticut.”

Dillon is concerned, however, that a longer Tweed runway will allow the airport to add routes to more cities served by Bradley, such as San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“I don’t believe Tweed can provide service to Puerto Rico today on the length of runway they have, but if they extend the runway they could,” Dillon said. “Those are the types of things that we’re looking at here and saying, ‘There will be challenges in this market if there’s unconstrained development of air services at two airports within (about) 50 miles of one another. the other. “

Scanlon confirmed that Puerto Rico is a “priority future destination for us”. Tweed recently received an $800,000 federal grant for a “minimum income guarantee” and associated marketing program to recruit, initiate and support potential routes to San Juan, Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina

“While I don’t have any news to share beyond this at this time, I will say that it is certainly possible that service (to Puerto Rico) will begin before the runway is extended,” Scanlon said. “And I know there would be many, many people in the great Puerto Rican community in southern Connecticut who would be very happy about that.”

Other proponents of Tweed expansion include Governor Ned Lamont.

“You have to do it in conjunction with the neighbors, but I think it really makes sense,” Lamont said in an interview. “I can tell you that the New Haven business community, the biotech community, Yale, Southern (Connecticut State University) — they’re all so supportive of making New Haven easy to get in and out of.”

Meanwhile, Bradley continues to upgrade its own infrastructure, namely a ground transportation center which opened in early summer. The new facility has allowed all rental car outlets serving Bradley to relocate to airport property. It also added approximately 850 covered parking spaces. In the long term, this could pave the way for rail service to Bradley.

“We believe we can demonstrate the need for a light rail connection from the Hartford rail line directly into this facility,” Dillon said at a June 30 groundbreaking event for the transit hub which was attended by elected officials, including Lamont and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

As for what could be done to allay his concerns about Tweed’s expansion, Dillon said he would be willing to discuss further with Scanlon.

“We talked throughout about the need for coordination between Tweed and Bradley,” Dillon said. “We are not criticizing Tweed and Avports. I’m just trying to point out something that we’re starting to see emerge here.

Likewise, Scanlon said he would appreciate more communication between the management teams at Bradley and Tweed.

“I’ve always been very clear with Kevin that we should talk more and coordinate,” Scanlon said. “To sit down once in a while and talk about the aviation landscape in Connecticut – I think that’s a good thing, and I’m totally open to doing that.”

[email protected]; twitter: @paulschott

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