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A New Approach

Bradley International Airport Moves Forward with the Hum of a Major Economic Engine
Bradley International Airport

Passengers make their way through checkpoints at Bradley International Airport. The airport aims to add 12 new gates through a massive expansion.

Barry Pallanck, airport administrator at Bradley International Airport, can confidently list some of the things Bradley does well: ample parking is one major plus, as is quick passenger-processing rates, solid security, and a low rate of airport closures and delays due to weather.

He does admit that the baggage claim sometimes sees a bit of a back-up.

“We’re a good-sized airport with a small-airport feel, and that reduces the stress of traveling for people significantly,” he said. “But sometimes, I think the walk from the plane to the baggage claim is too quick, and they end up waiting. We’re working on that.”

While many travelers will forgive a few minutes at the baggage carousel these days, Pallanck said it’s one example of ongoing attention to what he calls “the Bradley experience,” which puts ‘ensuring ease of travel’ at the top of the to-do list.

But it’s certainly not the only concern. Indeed, the Windsor Locks landmark is now in the midst of a $200 million expansion and renovation, designed to allow for needed growth at Bradley without losing that streamlined feel, accommodate a growing number of travelers, elevate the airport’s presence in terms of domestic air travel, and extend its reach further beyond U.S. borders, becoming a greater player in the global market.

Pilot Programs

It’s the word ‘International’ in the airport’s title that many people often forget, or even deny. But Bradley has long delivered passengers to Canada, welcomes international charter flights, and routinely sees brisk cargo business that delivers all over the globe.

Further, one of the airport’s primary objectives within the next two years is to establish new international passenger routes and ‘long-haul’ domestic routes, in keeping with growing numbers of business travelers as the global economy broadens (business travelers represent a little more than half of Bradley’s total customers), as well as a steady stream of leisure travelers.

Both groups fly into and out of Bradley to take advantage of its accessibility, including easy access from I-91, close proximity to several points in New England, and, often, to avoid the long lines and parking hassles that can add stress to a trip that begins at a major hub such as Logan or JFK.

To better accommodate those travelers and the airlines that carry them, Bradley is undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts, as new amenities are added and terminals are renovated. The terminal improvement project (funded by airport revenues, passenger facility charges, and federal grants) began in 2002 and will continue until 2011, in stages so not to disrupt regular passenger traffic.

The improvement project will add 12 new gates, and an extension to the airport’s Terminal A has already been completed. New eateries were added in response to repeated requests from travelers for a greater number of convenience-based amenities at the airport, as were a sundries shop and a Brooks Brothers clothing retailer.

Renovation is now underway in Terminals B and C as well, and expected to be completed next year.

Kiran Jain, director of marketing and route development for Bradley, said the growth is in response to healthy business at the airport. There have been some challenges, she said, such as the climb back to normalcy that all airports have had to make following 9/11, and fuel prices that have an adverse effect on the airlines’ bottom lines, and therefore that of the airports, as well. But Bradley is now wrapping up its best year in terms of passenger volume, with 7.5 million passengers, and has also seen an increase in cargo business, handling 159,848 tons of freight in 2005. In June of this year, JD Power named Bradley International Airport one of the 10 best medium-sized airports in the country.

“Our domestic business is doing extremely well,” said Jain, “but we still have high aspirations. There are areas we would like to extend our service to domestically, such as the Bay Area, and we will continue to focus on creating a viable international market, as well, to better serve our customers’ needs.”

Jain agreed with Pallanck that, in addition to the expansions and changes that are accommodating greater numbers of travelers and helping to woo new carriers to the airport, the aesthetic and convenience-based improvements within the terminals are also creating positive results at Bradley.

“We can’t put a value on it, but easing the experience as people come through Bradley is definitely creating a competitive edge,” she said. “It’s important to make a good first impression, and it’s important to have the amenities and services that people are coming to expect from regional airports.”

But Pallanck was quick to note that aesthetics also come into play when addressing the recent renewed interest in the facility on the part of major carriers.

“These aren’t expansions that are happening just because we want them to,” said Pallanck. “They’re happening because they have to. We used to invite airlines to come and take a look at us as part of our normal plans for growth. Now, they’re inviting us to take a look at them. Bradley is definitely becoming a name within the industry.”

Air Apparent

Even before the expansion project was launched, the airport had long been larger and busier than many people realized. Built in 1940 and enabling its first commercial flight seven years later, Bradley has already more than quadrupled its size in the past 50 years. It’s not considered a small airport by national standards, but rather a medium-sized, regional airport that records the same numbers of passengers as many mid-sized airports in close proximity to popular tourist destinations, such as Fort Myers (Florida) Airport and Buffalo Niagara International.

Bradley also has an on-site Sheraton hotel, two firehouses, a UPS distribution facility, and hosts units from the Army National Guard and Air National Guard. Twenty-three airlines routinely fly in and out, offering about 300 daily passenger flights, with 36 non-stop destinations. Bradley’s largest carrier is Delta, representing 27% of all flights, followed by low-cost Southwest (17.8%).

Bradley also has a complicated business model. It operates under the auspices of the Conn. Department of Transportation, and although it generates its own revenue and has its own enterprise fund, Jain said that doesn’t negate the presence of a “shadow of a government agency.”

“Processes can be extremely tiring,” said Jain. “There are times when we’d like to have a decision made quickly, but there is no quick turnaround, and sometimes opportunities can be lost due to reaction time.

“But, the fact remains that we are our own economic engine,” she added. “We don’t use tax dollars, and we make a profit.”

The ongoing growth at Bradley has become central to its marketing message, said Jain, who added that the airport is stringent with its marketing dollars, due in part to the need to reach two very different audiences through its marketing efforts: the airlines, who ultimately spur growth at the airport by increasing their numbers of available destinations, and the public.

“People often think a business like an airport is going to have a large, expendable marketing budget, but it’s actually extremely tight,” said Jain. “Our marketing is totally driven by the types of services we bring in; we’re not so much branding the airport as we are promoting specific services, showing both the airlines and our customers how we can benefit them.”

Pallanck added that airlines look at the economic health of the region an airport serves as well, and he said promoting the Springfield-Hartford corridor as well as surrounding areas is also helping bolster Bradley’s name in the airline sector.

“This area, from Fairfield County to Western Mass., is growing, and if the area grows, we grow,” he said, noting, however that it’s not just growth that makes a region attractive to an airline – there are other more specific factors, such as the presence of large, well-heeled corporate entities. Hartford has its share, but Pallanck said the airport doesn’t downplay the effect of the Western Mass., market, either.

“There are some solid companies in Springfield, and airlines see that,” he said. “Not only does that give viability to our marketing message, but employees at larger companies generally get paid well, and go on trips frequently, business and otherwise.

“And, well-established companies hold a sort of guarantee that younger companies don’t,” Pallanck continued. “They suggest to the airlines that they’re not going to pull the rug out from under them, that they’re going to remain a force in the region.”

Terminal Velocity

While the airport is largely consumed by the current expansion project, Pallanck said other plans for both regional and airport growth are already beginning to pop up on his radar screen, including the possibility of rail service adjacent to Bradley, further increasing its accessibility to travelers.

“There is a lot that has to happen first,” he said, “but the excitement, the necessary alliances, and the opportunities are definitely there.”

In the meantime, Pallanck said he’s busy overseeing construction within the terminals (now approaching ‘phase two,’) serving as a bridge between the airport and the DOT, and walking the length of the terminal from arrivals to the baggage claim, carefully timing the wait between when he arrives, and when his bag does.
In time, he said he’s confident he’ll get that timing just right … the talent comes with experience.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]