The state Senate unanimously approved a measure Saturday creating a new quasi-public authority to operate Bradley International and the state’s five smaller airports.
The bill, which would create a new nine-member Connecticut Airport Authority composed of public- and private-sector representatives to replace the existing Bradley Board of Directors, now moves to the House of Representatives.
Unlike the existing oversight board, a largely advisory panel that guided the state Department of Transportation in the administration of Bradley, the new authority will be empowered to hire staff, retain consultants, procure goods and services and enter into contracts, issue bonds and otherwise borrow funds, and apply for federal and state assistance.
“We know that the economic potential of Bradley has not been fully realized in the past,” Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the Commerce Committee and an advocate of creating an airport authority for the past four years. “There have been economic opportunities that have been missed.”
One of the few initiatives that enjoys strong bipartisan support in the legislature, the bill is expected to reach Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and be signed into law. Malloy, whose administration drafted much of the bill, repeatedly said during last fall’s campaign that Connecticut was not using its airports–both Bradley and the smaller facilities in Killingly, Groton, Hartford, Oxford and Windham–to their full economic potential.
Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, ranking GOP senator on the Commerce Committee, called the legislation “one of the more exciting bills to come along” in recent years. A former chairman of the Bradley Board of Directors, Frantz added that the bill could make the Windsor Locks airport “something that is an (economic) anchor point for Hartford, for Connecticut and for New England. It is very much an asset in a more global sense for this region.”
The bill also has been endorsed by the state’s chief business lobby, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
The authority’s members would be appointed by the governor and top legislative leaders and approved by the full legislature.
The authority’s private-sector appointees would have to be business leaders with expertise in financial planning, budgeting, marketing, master or strategic planning or transportation management.
The panel also would include the commissioners of the state Departments of Transportation and Economic and Community Development, as well as a representative of one of the smaller, state-owned general aviation airports and a member of the Bradley community advisory board.
LeBeau said unionized DOT workers currently assigned to the airport would retain their status as state employees and as members of their bargaining unit–a question that had been unresolved in earlier drafts of the bill.
The arrangement, he added, is similar to one employed in 1996 when the legislature created the quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation to take control of the state lottery from the Division of Special Revenue.