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Refine The Bradley Airport Plan

Airport Change: Malloy idea should have limited role for DOT

Hartford Courant Editorial

September 19, 2010

A proposal by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy to change how Bradley International Airport is run might go too far in the right direction.

Mr. Malloy proposed that Bradley be run by an independent, quasi-public authority, as many airports across the country are. The airport is currently run by the state Department of Transportation, a model rarely used elsewhere.

Under Mr. Malloy's plan, the new authority would take over all aspects of running the airport (and five smaller state-owned airports). But he might want to refine the idea to avoid a baby-with-the-bathwater problem. The DOT has actually done a very good job on the operations, or "air side," of Bradley. And because this involves some services (such as snowplowing) that the department also performs on the highways, it might be the most economical way to run airport operations.

The trouble area has traditionally been the "ground side," which includes such things as marketing, human resources, planning, promotion and business development. As a state agency, the airport administration must manage to a budget rather than a market and is hamstrung by state personnel and contracting rules. The stories of delays and lost opportunities caused by these strictures are legend.

For example, the Bradley board of directors, a mostly advisory body, identified a Colorado man as its top choice for airport manager a few years ago. He didn't take the job because the state declined to pay a few thousand dollars in family moving expenses. No flexible, entrepreneurial organization would ever do something like that.

An airport authority that was independent of these state rules should be able to avoid the pitfalls, as Mr. Malloy suggests. But he might want to include the DOT in the authority, for the air-side operation.

The importance of Bradley cannot be overstated. The airport is vital to commerce in southern New England and by one estimate pumps $4 billion per year into the regional economy. An independent authority would put a little more fuel into this economic engine.

Mr. Malloy also strongly rejected an idea floated in the last session of the General Assembly to sell Bradley for a one-time infusion of cash. He is right: That is an awful idea.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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