As air travel gradually resumes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bradley International Airport is turning to another goal: establishing the Windsor Locks-based airfield as a Northeast cargo hub. is.
According to data from the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) – the quasi-state, quasi-state agency created in 2011 to manage and operate Bradley International Airport and the state’s five other general aviation airports – revenue related at Bradley’s freight increased from $6.8 million in fiscal 2020 to nearly $9.4 million in 2021.
This represents the largest year-on-year increase in freight revenue in at least a decade, according to the CAA, which estimates that a shift in consumer spending towards online shopping and e-commerce – a trend strengthened by the pandemic – will continue to boost the airport’s cargo business.
Bradley collects rental and landing fees from the cargo carriers that operate on its lands. In 2022, freight revenues were $9.3 million, still well above historical norms.
“We believe Bradley is geographically positioned to serve the entire Northeast as a major distribution point for air cargo to and from the region,” said CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon. “It’s not just an opportunity, but we feel we have a responsibility to try to exploit the freight opportunities at Bradley.”
Dillon said the CAA wants Bradley to be a regional “aerotropolis”, meaning it serves both the air travel needs of residents and visitors as well as being an economic generator for the region.
“Airports serve as a central hub for all sorts of economic development that radiates outward from the airport,” Dillon said.
That’s where cargo capabilities come in. According to the CAA, Bradley has approximately 3.3 million square feet dedicated to cargo operations, and there’s room to expand. Integrated carriers such as FedEx, UPS and DHL have a significant presence in Bradley.
The CAA convinced Amazon to establish airline operations in Bradley about five years ago, Dillon said. The e-commerce giant operates approximately 90,000 square feet of cargo processing space at the airport.
Another freight services operator, Pinnacle Logistics – which ships packages for Amazon – moved into a 394,000 square foot space in Bradley in 2018.
“The fact that they (Amazon) were able to expand into Connecticut, I would like to think, has to do with the fact that they have the aerial capability in Bradley,” Dillon said.
Adam Winstanley, director of commercial real estate development and investment firm Winstanley Enterprises, has been monitoring activity around Bradley for years. His company has several massive warehouses in the area with tenants who use a mix of train, truck and plane to transport goods. COVID-19 restrictions from 2020 have changed everything for some businesses.
“I think a lot of businesses have been caught off guard by relying too much on traditional transportation routes,” Winstanley said. “They have manufacturing in China that arrives at a US port by container and then trucked to a series of warehouses. … I think that kind of supply chain has become very disruptive, and with the lockdowns in China, a lot of people couldn’t source from outside of China, so they had to switch to air freight.
Winstanley said at least one of his company’s local construction projects in New Haven experienced supply chain disruptions due to ground transportation delays, so he relied more on air transportation. .
“There are times when having a major transportation hub is hugely beneficial because there are times when you’ll pay more to get what you need faster,” Winstanely said. “Bradley plays a very important role in the region.”
Bradley’s importance as a freight hub has been reflected in the boom in warehouse development in Greater Hartford, particularly north of the capital in towns such as Windsor and Enfield. Proposals for new warehouses have been so extensive in recent years that some cities have implemented moratoriums on new construction.
The more the better
MetroHartford Alliance President and CEO David Griggs said he supports Bradley’s increased freight efforts over the next few years. It’s about increasing Connecticut’s ability to compete with other states and regions, he said.
“The more goods we can transport in and out of our communities, the better,” Griggs said.
“Without the airport, we wouldn’t have the number of businesses we have – Bradley is a hugely important asset to the region and to our business community,” he added.
Dillon said CAA’s cargo revenue pales in comparison to passenger service revenue, but is equally important when it comes to establishing the airport as a regional hub for all types of economic activities. For example, establishing a local alternative for manufacturers to ship and receive parts and goods is key to helping this industry grow.
“If you look at the freight alternatives in the region, a lot of the big manufacturers still send their freight from JFK to New York,” Dillon said. “JFK, in many ways, is overpriced and congested, so we think we have a real opportunity to capitalize on that here at Bradley.”
The Bradley Development League is a non-profit organization made up of representatives from the four communities surrounding the airport: East Granby, Suffield, Windsor and Windsor Locks. Parts of each city make up the Bradley Airport Development Area, which offers tax incentives and benefits to businesses looking to build in the area.
“We are working to increase commercial development around the airport by marketing potential sites and opportunities,” said Patrick McMahon, Windsor’s director of economic development.
Suffield’s director of planning and development, Bill Hawkins, said the Bradley Development League is targeting industries that could use the airport and nearby high-tech manufacturers.
He said JSW Media Inc., an e-commerce company that works with Amazon, built a facility near the airport in 2019 to take advantage of shipping opportunities.
In Windsor, Amazon has built or opened three facilities since 2016. The newest and largest — a 3.5 million square foot fulfillment center at 1215 Kennedy Road — opened recently and is currently hiring.
“I’m sure the whereabouts decision had some aspects of being close to Bradley,” McMahon said.
Meanwhile, UPS is outfitting an 83,345 square foot sorting and distribution warehouse at 120 Old County Circle in Windsor Locks.
Plans for another development – the construction of a 250,240 square foot warehouse and distribution building at 30 Hamilton Road in Windsor Locks – were approved by the city in September. The developer is The Silverman Group, based in New Jersey.
“Windsor Locks can’t be beat when it comes to proximity to the airport, major highways and railroads,” said Windsor Locks Planning and Development Manager Jennifer Valentino Rodriguez. “The airport is definitely an incredible draw and influence. There are so many benefits to be gained from the increase in activity, in travelers, just from this visibility. »
Sandra Johnson, director of economic development and commercial real estate for East Granby, said her town is “ideally located for freight operations” and is currently working with an existing business to expand its freight efforts related to the airport. Another company is considering establishing a presence in eastern Granby because of its proximity to Bradley.
She said the importance of Bradley’s 10,000ft long runway is underestimated: it allows the airport to accommodate jumbo jets that might not be able to land elsewhere.
“Unlike many other airports, Bradley has the infrastructure to support cargo operations,” Johnson said.
Winstanely said Bradley has the potential to be a regional freight distribution center, and he already sees the evidence of that.
“Part of the distribution success in Connecticut is because we have a great airport nearby,” Winstanley said. “Without Bradley, you probably don’t see as much distribution activity as we saw.”
Rodriguez said Windsor Locks and the Capitol Region Council of Governments are working together on a corridor study looking at development patterns along Highway 20 and major intersecting streets to further assess development potential in the area. She said that the CAA will be part of this study committee.
McMahon of Windsor said there were still “plenty of properties around the airport for new light industrial development, so if cargo activity increases in Bradley, it could only help the four neighboring communities”.
Dillon said the development of specialized on-site logistics and freight facilities to handle the specific and “sophisticated” sorting of goods like engines and large parts is something the CAA continues to focus on.
“We’re certainly willing to partner with the freight industry, even to the point of developing these facilities at our expense if we can get the right long-term deal in place,” Dillon said. “It’s a real potential business sector that presents opportunities for us.