Moving control of Bradley International Airport from the state Department of Transportation to a quasi-public airport authority, as a bill before the legislature proposes, is the way to go. Freeing the airport from the bonds of state hiring and purchasing rules should give it the entrepreneurial flexibility to increase the airport's already significant economic impact.
But the bill that would create the "Connecticut Airport Authority" raises some issues that need to be thought through. The bill lumps Bradley in with the state's five smaller general aviation airports in the new authority. It is hard to see how that helps Bradley, or achieves any meaningful efficiencies.
Bradley is a major regional airport, the hub of Southern New England, pushing to gain national and international traffic. The smaller airports, though they are also airports and valuable assets, have a different mission.
Also, the bill expands the current Bradley board of directors from seven to nine for the new authority. However, only three are appointed by the governor. The governor should be able to appoint a majority of directors.
Under the bill, non-managerial workers will be classified as state employees. Should they be?
It's important to make this change; there's a reason few airports are run by state departments of transportation. The DOT has done a fine job on the operations, or "air side," of Bradley but, hamstrung by state rules, not as well on the "ground side," which includes such things as marketing, promotion and business development. The stories of delays and lost opportunities are legend.
But in curing this problem, we don't want to create others. This bill feels hurried. Perhaps the better step would be to commit to the authority, but bring in one of the world's leading airport management firms to help create an optimal structure for the new authority. This is too important to get wrong.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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