CT Airport Authority Takes First Steps, Sets Priorities

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CT Governor Dannel Malloy kicks off the CT Airport Authority’s first meeting

After decades of discussion and a long history of resistance
from the Connecticut Department of Transportation that previously ran the
State’s airports, the newly created Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) started
its mission of re-creating the way that Connecticut’s 6 State owned airports
are governed, managed, and marketed. To get the new Authority started, CT
Governor Malloy addressed the 11 member Board prior to the beginning of their
first meeting. Specifically to Bradley, the State’s largest airport, the
Governor commented, “We are not maximizing the potential of this airport,” a
theme he has carried from the campaign a year ago into the new Authority.

The Governor left the CAA to their task at hand, telling the
members to “get to work” after his comments at the Legislative Office Building.
The Chairwoman of the CAA, Mary Ellen Jones, quickly did so and began the
meeting by noting the need for quick action. The Governor’s choice as Chair and
the President of Engine Alliance, Ms. Jones directed “We need to establish some
sub-committees and get some real work going”.  Jones also emphasized the need to get an
Executive Director, a position created by the legislation, onboard quickly “and
set priorities and an action plan.”

In the case of Bradley International, this is the third
Board in a long evolution from the Bradley Airport Commission from the early
1980’s, to the 2001 creation of the Bradley International Airport Board of
Directors. This has all been done in search of creating a more nimble,
proactive, and successful airport.  In
explaining key points on behalf of the Governor, his Director of Policy Liz
Donohue explained “I’m so glad to be meeting after all this work” in the past
Legislative session, and continued, “for years this has been championed by
many, including the business community.”  In the transition from an advisory Board (both
former entities had no budgetary or Legislative powers other than to advise the
DOT) to a full Authority, the new independent Authority would be chaperoning
“the best economic asset in the State” in the opinion of the Governor’s office.
Director Donohue also assured, “Hire an Executive Director, that’s something
that can happen sooner than later, to help you move forward.”

The first priority as far as the legislative requirements to
transition to a fully independent Authority, as pointed out by the Chairwoman,
is to create a Memorandum of Understanding between the State of Connecticut
Department of Transportation and the CAA. Ex officio Board member and CT
Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker assured, “the DOT will
provide ongoing support” to facilitate the process, which is a stark contrast
to the posture of the agency historically. When asked about a timeframe,
Commissioner Redeker explained, “There’s an obvious process, an FAA (Federal
Aviation Administration) checklist.” The commissioner estimated that it would
take approximately 6 months, and that Bradley would be the first in the
sequence of airports.  Later, Board
member Robert Aaronson stated that he previously worked for the FAA in the
office that oversaw the process, and hoped that he could expedite the
move.  Redeker did say that in his
position as DOT Commissioner he had to look at the process from two sides; one
as the head of DOT and its workforce, the other as a member of the Board that
the legislation dictated be implemented to overcome a bureaucratic process that
has stymied previous efforts at real growth. “I can’t wait for the transition
to be done” he stated, “It’ll free me up to be more of a Board member.”

 

CT Department of Economic and Community Development
Commissioner Catherine Smith, another ex-officio member, emphasized the need to
benchmark, “to get facts, figures, and costs versus the competition.” That
point was later echoed by fellow board member Brett Browchuk, a CIGNA executive
in charge of procurement “everything we buy and sell including real estate,”  who urged “let’s create some competition to
Logan and those great New York airports.”

A good portion of the conversation, including the
introductions, centered on the importance of CT’s airports and transportation
in general to the State’s economic well-being. Commissioner Smith reiterated
the same, as did several others of the varied professionals that make up the
board.  To get this going, again as urged
by Chairwoman Jones, the board all agreed that getting a new Executive Director
in place was critical. There was the question as to whether a temporary person
in this capacity made sense, and board member Scott Guilmartin added “it is
absolutely critical that we have a Marketing person.” The question as to
whether or not the Authority should have a legal consultant, or whether or not
the Authority has a budget to get started ensued, but it appears that the CT
Airport Authority is in motion to get a lot accomplished soon. Treasurer Denis
Napier, another member, confirmed through her designate Peter McAlpine that
there “was a roof in place” to facilitate financing during the transition, via
the Bradley Enterprise Fund.

At the end of the second hour, the board broke into sub
committees focused on Procedures, Personnel, Outreach and Facility Operations.
Those groups were later condensed, and Procedures and Personnel seem to be the
immediate areas of concern. The members of the new Board offer a wide array of
strengths ranging from aviation, retail, finance and airline organizations, and
have the institutional history of retired executive Michael Long, who served as
the first Chairman of the original Bradley Airport Commission in the 1980s, as
well as the hands on airport experience of Matthew Kelly, who in 14 years with
the DOT has worked at every State owned airport and currently is the General
Manager at Waterbury- Oxford Airport. Member Andrew Gray brings 20 years of
retail related IT experience, Robert Aaronson a career of State, Federal, and
Industry aviation experience; and business owners Scott Guilmartin and Karen
Jarmoc, also a former State Representative, offer local insight as well. Under
the leadership of Mary Ellen Jones, the group has a lot to accomplish prior to
their next meeting, to be held in November.

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