AP NEWS

Efforts continue to restore commercial service to Groton-New London Airport

May 2, 2019

The head of the Connecticut Airport Authority said discussions over Tweed New Haven Airport and the potential to develop more commercial service there in the future are not interfering with ongoing efforts to try to restore commercial service at Groton-New London Airport.

The Groton airport is the only one of the authority’s five general aviation airports that has the certification to allow passenger commercial airline service. 

“There is nothing occurring right now that will change the direction that we’ve set for Groton-New London Airport, which calls for the development of that airport and in particular commercial airline service at that airport,” CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon said in a phone interview Monday.

Tweed is owned by the city of New Haven and operated by the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority. The CAA has begun early conversations with the city and airport authority based on the need to coordinate and ensure activities at Bradley International don’t hinder plans for Tweed, he said. The discussions could result in an agreement for CAA to operate the Tweed New Haven Airport, a direct acquisition or a plan to coordinate activities more closely, he said.

Dillon said Tweed New Haven represents an opportunity to develop a “southern tier” airport for commercial service and to attract a sizeable passenger base from Fairfield County and potentially eastern New York. Tweed already has some American Airlines service to Philadelphia and Charlotte, according to CTNewsJunkie.com, which also has reported the negotiations with the CAA.

The negotiations ultimately may have no impact on Groton-New London Airport’s potential for commercial passenger service, particularly if they only result in an agreement to coordinate activities, Dillon said.

From a system standpoint, there are only so many airlines to land planes at airports in one geographic area. If significant levels of commercial service were to be developed at Tweed in the future, it makes it less likely that commercial service would be developed at airports in close proximity, he said.

“There’s a reality that has to factor into where development dollars are being spent,” he said.

While the CAA is not involved, Dillon pointed out that Sikorsky Memorial Airport, another municipally owned airport, where The Connecticut Post has reported there is a proposal to restore commercial service, is also very viable for commercial service. Conversely, if commercial airline service were restored at Groton-New London, it potentially could affect other airports.

He said expansion of commercial service at other airports doesn’t necessarily mean the CAA would give up Groton-New London Airport’s certification for commercial passenger service, for which it pays $250,000 annually. If eliminated, it would be difficult to restore.

No decisions have been made, and right now scenarios about stepped up commercial service at Tweed are hypothetical, he said.

“We’re a long way from that happening at this point,” he said. “We’re in very preliminary conversations.”

Dillon said runway length issues also have posed a challenge to developing additional service at Tweed. Proposed legislation to allow the extension of the runway is making its way through the legislature, he said.

Commercial airline service at Groton still a goal

The airport authority hopes to restore commercial passenger service at Groton-New London Airport, which ended about 15 years ago, and is continuing to talk to carriers, he said.

Dillon told The Day’s Editorial Board last fall that commercial passenger service from Groton-New London Airport to Washington, D.C., is a goal worth pursuing. The authority had been in discussions last year with an airline carrier interested in providing that service, but plans for the carrier to acquire another carrier to provide the aircraft capacity fell through. 

Groton-New London Airport has a 5,000-foot main runway and 4,000-foot crosswind runway, which doesn’t limit commercial service but does limit options, he said. Typically, airports need a runway length of a minimum of 6,000 feet to offer a service viable to commercial activity, he said, but many times airports that lack runways of that length still pursue commercial service, looking for niche aircraft.

The Groton-New London Airport has a “very viable terminal building” and offers a market, with the region’s tourism industry and casinos, that is attractive to certain carriers, he said.

Dillon said the airport authority is trying to stress to the business community that if the authority is to restore commercial passenger service to Groton-New London, there has to be a level of commitment to use the service.

With the growth of area companies key to service development, the CAA plans to coordinate another round of outreach to the business community, hopefully within the next few months, to collect updated data that would demonstrate to carriers the market in the region, he said. Data would include the top five markets for a business to have service to or from and how many trips annually the company would expect to generate.

Paige Bronk, Groton’s economic and community development manager, said town officials have maintained a dialogue with local airport officials and the CAA.

“We clearly advocate for increased service at the airport, but we also realize there has to be a partnership between our existing anchors and the CAA in order to entice a commercial operation,” he said.

He said much of Groton’s approximately 40,000 annual flights are related to Pfizer, Electric Boat, the Naval Submarine Base and casinos. He said there’s clearly a need, but it’s a matter of finding the right program.

Bronk said one of Groton’s strengths is the ability to pull from the Rhode Island market. He pointed out that the discussions for Groton-New London Airport have focused on providing limited service, potentially to Washington, D.C.

“I don’t necessarily think that limited service would be a competition or replacement for whatever is going to take place at Tweed,” he said.

k.drelich@theday.com