A West Hartford businessman is forming a new airline that would offer regular transatlantic flights from Bradley International Airport, something the state-owned facility has sought for decades.
AtlanticJet LLC, a company formed this past summer by former West Hartford Council member John Shulansky and a partner from New Canaan, Edward Wegel, plans to offer daily nonstop flights to London starting in the spring.
Before that can happen, AtlanticJet must buy or lease two or more Boeing 757-200s, the jetliner it intends to use. It must hire a company licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly and maintain the planes. It must find a headquarters, probably in or near Hartford. Then it must finish raising more than $10 million and apply for millions more in state assistance.
But Shulansky, 47, is brimming with confidence.
He made money on his last aviation-related venture, East Hartford-based IBP Aerospace Group, which imported ejection-seat technology for military planes to the United States and was sold last year. He says the only thing between AtlanticJet and success is public support.
"This has got to be community-based," he said. "If businesses and the state don't support this, we are just not going to succeed."
Taking a page from the playbook of low-fare leader Southwest Airlines, AtlanticJet plans to fly from Bradley to Stansted Airport, which is London's No. 3 airport behind Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Stansted is about an hour's drive from the center of London, but it offers nine daily flights to Paris and nine more to Amsterdam, as well as connections to other European cities.
Stansted served 12.3 million passengers last year, and is one of the fastest-growing airports in Europe or the British Isles. Shulansky said once-daily flights from Bradley would fill a niche, since the only U.S. flights into Stansted were canceled by major air carriers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But the strongest argument for the new service is that Bradley serves a broad, well-to-do clientele of more than 3 million in an area that takes in all of Connecticut and much of western and central Massachusetts.
"When you compare the Hartford-Springfield market to other markets that have intercontinental service, it's remarkable that we don't have it," Shulansky said.
Figures from the state Department of Transportation and its consultants show more potential in the Bradley market than in urban areas such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Raleigh-Durham, he said.
At the transportation department, Andre Libert, who is in charge of marketing and route development for Bradley, said past efforts to interest a major airline in starting European flights from Bradley have fizzled.
Airlines that serve New York and Boston know they have a captive market of Connecticut travelers bound for Europe. Libert said Shulansky's home-grown approach could break that mold.
"The market's here," he said. "If the community gets behind it - support from corporations, support from the state of Connecticut, support by Connecticut citizens - it could work."
Libert said his research - done before Sept. 11 - shows 300,000 to 600,000 people living in the area served by Bradley fly to Europe each year. Even at the low end, those numbers are more than enough to fill a 180-seat jet such as the Boeing 757-200 every day of the year.
Marty Morrison, who runs Fare Audit Inc., a company that tracks and analyzes airfares for major corporations, said flying from Bradley would save overseas travelers about five hours in commuting time. That would appeal to corporate travelers, he said.
"Boston is a circus. New York is a circus. If you have a choice, why would you put yourself through all that aggravation?" Morrison said. "With a 200-passenger airplane, they should be able to hit a good 75 to 80 percent of capacity if their product is priced correctly."
Shulansky said the blow to the airline industry by the Sept. 11 attacks may help his venture.
"There's a lot of used airplanes available," he said, "and likewise there are a number of experienced people who are looking for jobs and who know what they're doing."
The venture has financial backing from leading Hartford businessmen such as Robert Fiondella, chairman and chief executive officer of Phoenix Companies Inc., and lawyer Peter G. Kelly, Shulansky said. AtlanticJet also is seeking financial assistance from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
Ten days ago, Shulansky quietly made a presentation to corporate leaders at a meeting of the Metro Hartford Regional Economic Alliance, the umbrella group for the Metro Hartford Chamber of Commerce. Among those present were Scott Frantz, chairman of the new state board created to improve marketing and promotion of Bradley airport. Frantz is expected to brief the board about AtlanticJet when it meets next Thursday.
Shulansky, who has been a corporate consultant, served on the board of the Hebrew Home and Hospital in West Hartford and successfully ran the Greater Hartford Open golf tournament, said he is not holding himself out as an airline executive. The expertise for that comes from Wegel.
Wegel, 43, has 16 years of experience in aviation. For the past three years, he has been managing partner of Aviation Capital Partners LLC, working on the financial restructurings of Cayman Airways and Guyana Airways as well as providing advice to major investment houses on their aviation-related investments. From 1997 to 1999, he was president and CEO of Chatauqua Airlines/US Airways Express, based in Indianapolis. In the early 1990s, he was president and chief operating officer of British West Indies International Airways in Trinidad. Before that, he was a co-founder of Atlantic Coast Airlines/United Express.
Kelly, a lawyer who has been active in national Democratic politics for decades, said he flies to Europe almost monthly, and finds dealing with congestion at New York and Boston airports "nightmarish." Flying out of Bradley, he said, would let travelers reach London or Paris "with 2½ hours less on the road, and at about half the cost."
LoneStarMike From United States of America, joined Jul 2000, 3641 posts, RR: 38 Reply 3, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 1135 times:
Hartford may have a large well-to-do population, and there might be enough demand to fill up a 757 each way, but the problem with most people who fly frequently is that they just have to feel like they are "important". They wear their frequent flier titles like badges of honor. They're Silver. They're Gold. They're Platinum. They're Executive Platinum. They're "Elite" (better than the rest of the unwashed masses in coach) and you'd best remember that and kiss their asses accordingly.
It's all about status and frequent-flier programs and perks and if this new airline can't provide that, then I don't see them as being successful.
DCA-ROCguy From United States of America, joined Apr 2000, 4402 posts, RR: 37 Reply 7, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 23 hours ago) and read 1056 times:
I'd rate this one very doubtful. If there were enough money to be made in flying business travelers nonstop from larger medium-size airports like BDL on 752's, the Cartel carriers would already be doing it. It's striking that only one of them--Continental, known for willingness to spend money on increased service choices--flies 752's across the Atlantic. There must be a reason for that.
The 752 has extremely good CSM's, so it can't be the a/c operating cost. I suspect that the cost of operating fewer 762's, 763's, 777s, and 744's across the Atlantic with more high-margin business and first class seats per plane, is lower than the cost of operating a big fleet of 752's. These a/c are all widebodies; I'd bet that the narrowbody 752 fuselage is tougher to fit enough sleeper, business-class, etc. seats into. So the Cartel finds it more efficient to concentrate pax at a few bigger airports and fill these larger planes.
Before anyone objects that the Cartel is big into multiple dailies to Europe (even US has two dailies to LGW from PHL), note that the smallest plane used (again excepting CO) is the 762. That must be some kind of cut-off line for the Cartel carriers' first, business, and economy seat-mix profit matrices. Before anyone objects that RDU has service to LGW, note that it's been a 763 for years without a hub operation, and was a 777 before 9/11.
The Hartford business community is of course free to try, but I think they'll just lose a lot of money. Unless Air Hartford is substantially cheaper for a similar-quality transatlantic product, those Elite-status miles LoneStarMike mentioned will keep the business folks aboard the Cartel's bigger planes from BOS and JFK.
PSU_DTW_SCE From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 9, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 12 hours ago) and read 978 times:
Here's another point to consider, flying into Stansted isn't as lucrative as Heathrow or Gatwick. There are many people who will to Heathrow or Gatwick and never venture downtown to the business district. They will meet up with clients who have flown in from around the world and meet in hotels near the airport.
Companies are very picky about their preferred airlines. Most companies rarely go for small carriers. Low cost isn't necessarily the choice for instance many business travelers will use Southwest or Frontier but they have for the most part avoided those like Spirit, Sun Country, ATA, and Pro Air.
Considering the FF programs, most people will fly a major where they know they can rack up half a domestic ticket in one hop there and back across the pond.
JonPaulGeoRngo From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR: Reply 11, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 932 times:
Actually, I was being serious about Manchester, NH. Just wait a few years and this airport will shove BOS aside on another front.
The entire region from NY to Boston is highly urbanized to some extent. There are at least two dozen cities within 90 minutes of Hartford with sizeable and monied populations. Connecting traffic doesn't have to come via planes. Simply getting in your car and driving to Hartford consititutes connecting traffic.
BTW, its false to some extent to assume that most passengers are loyal or are even members of frequent flyer programs. Thousands of travelers will choose the best deal and a conveinent airport over a program in a heartbeat.
Haveric From United States of America, joined Jan 2001, 1247 posts, RR: 5 Reply 12, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 920 times:
People from Hartford might like the convenience on the US side, but they experience the reverse problem on the UK side. Unlike being at Heathrow, they're way out of London. It's probably easier for americans to get to NYC or BOS than it is for them to get to downtown London from Stansted.
Afitch7881 From United States of America, joined Aug 2000, 812 posts, RR: 1 Reply 13, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 886 times:
I think saying that companies dont like to take discount airlines is a little different in this case. There is no discount airline to a European destination from the USA, so this is a entirely different ball game. This could possibly start something that would work, with low fare carriers going accross the pound. Who knows, maybe Southwest will fly to LGW sooner or later.
Also, make this be a testing point for further airlines. Let this Hartford- London flight serve as a newby and show the big boys that Hartford can support service into a European city. Can we say AA 767 BDL-LGW? Who knows, look at RDU.
ROSWELL41 From United States of America, joined Aug 2001, 576 posts, RR: 1 Reply 14, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 859 times:
What would be interesting is if this AtlanticJet would codeshare with Southwest to serve its domestic connections. Southwest has a large presence at BDL and is in great financial shape. This could potentially work.
Mah4546 From Sweden, joined Jan 2001, 31118 posts, RR: 73 Reply 15, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 856 times:
WN tried to codeshare with Icelandair, and it didn't work. There technically is a low-fare carrier across the Atlantic, and that is Icelandair, and they do pretty well in the US. And other low-fare Atlantic carriers, like Laker II, which offered flights to Gatwick from Miami and Ft. Lauderdale as recently as 1998, were able to fill planes, but not turn a profit. Would BDL-LON work? Yes, probably. BDL definitley has the support for a London flight. Will it work on a new start-up carrier? In my opinion, doubtful. BDL-LGW is something American Airlines should take a look at in the future.
Lowsonboy From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2001, 275 posts, RR: 0 Reply 16, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 2 days 3 hours ago) and read 847 times:
Haveric, I can see where you're coming from but contrary to popular belief it's not really too bad getting in to central London from Stansted - the Stansted express is frequent and fast, and a hell of a lot more pleasant than the Underground from Heathrow. Stansted itself is also a much nicer airport to fly from, less crowded and less chances of delays.
Afitch7881 From United States of America, joined Aug 2000, 812 posts, RR: 1 Reply 18, posted (11 years 5 months 1 week 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 773 times:
If any, American I believe would start transatlantic service first. With a good amount of flights out of BDL and serving over 1 million pax a year, LGW would be a nice fit from BDL on AA. They have it at RDU, giving that it is left over from the hub days? But if RDU can support it, BDL definatly can. Iceland Air I heard was considering BDL in recent times, maybe now with the new International bulding they would consider flying in with at least a 2 stop.