State optimistic Aer Lingus transatlantic route will resume at Bradley International Airport as pandemic eases

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Kenneth R. Gosselin, Hartford Courant
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Aer Lingus, the airline that ushered in a new era of transatlantic flights out of Bradley International Airport in 2016, hasn’t offered its direct service from Windsor Locks to Dublin since the start of the pandemic, but state officials said Wednesday they are optimistic about the carrier’s return to Connecticut, even though it could be at least another year.

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said he hopes the downturn in passenger traffic — now about as much as 75% below what it was a year ago — will start to ease by the end of 2021.

“We’re like everyone else, we’re pinning our hopes on the wide distribution of a vaccine, and by the end of 2021, you start to see what I refer to as ‘meaningful recovery’ where we are starting to be down only 50% and then down by 40%, Dillon said.

“That’s where we are hopeful that demand will have returned enough to convince Aer Lingus that, OK, let’s put Bradley in the schedule for 2022,” Dillon said.

David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development said, in a text Wednesday: “We’re optimistic that all routes will return when demand for travel comes back, hopefully later in 2021.”

Aer Lingus did not immediately return an email Wednesday seeking comment.

The Aer Lingus route — daily, except during the winter — is seen as key to economic development, making it easier for companies in the Hartford region to do business abroad in an increasingly global market. Connections from Dublin to 26 other European cities are also seen as attractive to leisure travelers.

The state has a big stake in the success of Aer Lingus service at Bradley, committing millions of dollars to guarantee shortfalls in revenue as Aer Lingus developed its business at Bradley. Aer Lingus said it would invest $50 million for the expansion at Bradley, including adding a Boeing 757, with 174 seats, to its fleet.

Airlines have suffered devastating losses in the pandemic and some experts have said air travel may not return to the levels prior to COVID-19 until 2023 or 2024.

Dillon said Aer Lingus was initially barred from all transatlantic travel to the U.S. at the start of the pandemic, but has begun offering reduced service to larger hubs such as New York where population sizes are larger.

Air Canada, another major international carrier at Bradley, also has suspended flights because the border with Canada remains closed except for essential travel.

“We’re in the same mode with Air Canada,” Dillon said. “They will certainly be back at the airport but that is dependent on restrictions being lifted as well as the demand for international travel to return.”

Through October, the count of passengers at Bradley — the total of those boarding and getting off planes — totaled 2.1 million, compared with 5.6 million for the same period in 2019.

The total for 2020 represents a 63% decline compared with the year earlier, and would have been steeper if not for strong travel months in January and February, prior to the pandemic hitting, Dillon said.

Contact Kenneth R. Gosselin at