Conn. airport announces new delay warnings

STEPHEN SINGER Associated Press Published:

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Four months after passengers were stranded for hours at Bradley International Airport for the second time in little more than a year, aviation officials on Thursday announced a new alert system they say will help prevent the problem.

Federal and state transportation officials say a new digital system to inform airlines of ground delays would have prevented past problems. The system will allow Bradley to issue a "Notice to Airmen" electronically through the Federal Aviation Administration's national system.

Amy Lind Corbett, the FAA's regional administrator for New England called it a "major step forward to help keep all parties as fully informed as possible about ground conditions" to help aviation officials coordinate airline rerouting.

Bradley is now one of 55 airports in the United States using the digital system, officials said.

In June 2010, storms diverted a London-to-Newark, N.J., Virgin Atlantic flight to the Windsor Locks, Conn., airport, where passengers were stuck for four hours in a hot, darkened plane. Travelers said they were offered water but no food; some fainted.

Last October, 29 planes, including international flights, arrived unexpectedly at Bradley during the autumn snowstorm. The planes were forced to divert because weather and equipment problems prevented them from landing at New York-area airports.

Many of the flights sat on the ground for hours before they could refuel and depart or unload their passengers. The captain of JetBlue flight 504 begged for help to get his plane to a gate, saying passengers were becoming unruly and he had paraplegic and diabetic passengers who needed to get off.

Since the October storm, numerous federal agencies -- transportation, aviation, customers and border protection -- and the state Department of Transportation and the newly established state airport authority worked to prevent "the kind of diversions and delays that Bradley experienced that day," officials said, referring to the Oct. 29 incident.

State Transportation Department Judd Everhart said that with the notification system, Bradley Airport can send information directly to airlines through the FAA. In the past, federal aviation officials first approved notifications by the airport, he said.

Had the notification system been in place in October, airlines would have likely avoided Bradley, Everhart said.

Bradley also opened two gates, waiting areas and rest rooms and established new areas to bring in domestic and international passengers.

State Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker said officials "learned a great deal" and are better prepared if the situation repeats itself.

Representatives from numerous federal agencies met in Washington last November to recommend ways to handle diversions regionally and nationally.

Other changes will allow international passengers to unload without checked luggage during extreme conditions. In the June 2010 nighttime incident, passengers were not permitted off the flight from London until immigration officials arrived.

In addition, the FAA will now alert all regional airports of planned maintenance projects that would take critical navigation systems out of service, and Bradley will convene pre-storm planning when a storm is forecast.

And airlines and the airport have put together a supply of water, ready-to-eat meals, baby formula, diapers, pet food, cots, blankets and other item.