Bradley loses flight capacity

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Students sick of long airport shuttle rides spent crammed between duffel bags and last semester’s awkward hookup may have more opportunities in the coming years to take the short 10-minute cab ride to Tweed-New Haven Airport instead.

Tweed officials said Monday that the airport may benefit over the next decade from Hartford-Bradley International Airport’s announcement earlier this month that its flight seating capacity decreased 18 percent last year. While some industry experts said Bradley’s declining capacity is an industry-wide phenomenon, others said Tweed-New Haven may be able to absorb some of Bradley’s lost capacity. The impact on students is unclear, as some students said Bradley’s declining capacity will make commuting to and from school more difficult, but others said they would welcome more flights leaving from Tweed.

David Kilbon, a member of Bradley’s board of directors, said the drop in passenger seats is largely due to a number of airlines’ decisions to move their larger jets from domestic Hartford-bound flights to more profitable long-haul and international flights out of other airports. Kilbon said Hartford is not an isolated case, and the airline industry as a whole is moving its largest-capacity aircrafts to long-haul domestic and international flights. While the number of passenger seats at Hartford declined, Kilbon said, the airport did not lose any flight routes, with the exception of one commuter-affiliate of United Airlines that went out of business earlier this year.

“The whole airline industry is downsizing [the] aircraft that they are using for domestic flights,” Kilbon said. “Where Bradley may have had a Boeing 757, the same route may be flown using a regional jet.”

The drop in passenger seats, which was announced at the board of directors’ monthly meeting, comes after officials announced the airport’s first daily transatlantic flight to Amsterdam, which will be operated by Northwest Airlines and is due to start next year on July 1. This month’s announcement marks the first decline in passenger seats at the airport since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Michael Kim ’10 said the Hartford airport, approximately an hour’s ride from campus, offers both a large number of direct flights and a location close to campus — a combination that New York City airports and Tweed are unable to offer.

“JFK, LaGuardia and Newark are too far away and [connecting to] New Haven [takes] too long,” Kim said. “I think Hartford is the airport of choice for most Yale students.”

But Aneetha Ramadas ’08, who flies home to Los Angeles through JFK, said she would welcome the chance to take advantage of increasing flights leaving from Tweed because of its convenient location.

Jenny Laaser ’08 said that while the trip to New York is uncomfortable and inconvenient, she will not stop flying out of JFK until Tweed or Bradley begin to offer more direct flights.

“They have to be non-stop flights,” she said. “If they were just offering shuttle flights, that would not do me any good.”

Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist with DataCore Partners, said the decline in passenger seats at Bradley opens the way for expansion at Tweed-New Haven airport, as market demand for air travel is expected to grow in the coming decade. But he said he is unsure whether Tweed will be able to capitalize on the opportunity.

“We know that the capacity at Bradley has been curtailed, and we know that, if anything, demand for air travel has been rising,” Klepper-Smith said. “I think there is an opportunity for Tweed to absorb some of this demand, but whether it will or not is a function of many things.”

Edwin VanSelden, the chairman of the New Haven Airport Authority, said while Tweed-New Haven officials are in discussion with airline companies about operating new routes to and from New Haven, they are concentrating on getting the state’s final approval for an expansion to the 560-feet runway required to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s new safety requirements set for 2015. The proposed project, which has caused controversy in the local community because of environmental concerns, received the State Department for Environmental Protection’s preliminary approval this summer.

Yet VanSelden said he thinks Tweed-New Haven may see similar expansion to that at New Hampshire’s Manchester airport and Rhode Island’s T.H. Green in the last decade following a decentralization of flights from Boston’s Logan airport to other regional airports.

“That story in miniature is likely to happen in Connecticut with Tweed as a satellite to Bradley,” he said. “[But] right now, Tweed airport is focused on getting the runway safety areas.”

But Kilbon said it is unlikely flights will move from Bradley to Tweed as Hartford’s airport is still a long way from its full capacity.

“Logan was at capacity, [but] this reduction in capacity is more directly connected to how the airlines view the industry than because Bradley wants to reduce the number of flights,” he said.

Tweed’s flight volume fell by a third this year after Delta Airlines announced it would be halting service to the airport in January. Tweed’s only carrier is currently U.S. Airways.

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