Are flights from Connecticut to Jamaica in the state’s future? $2 million is being offered as an incentive

A years-long campaign to establish nonstop flight service between Hartford and Jamaica received a boost in the recently enacted state budget.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development is receiving up to $2 million to support the establishment of direct flights to Jamaica. A spokesman for DECD said the money can be used to incentivize an airline to develop a route between Connecticut and the island but cautioned that it’s still too early to say how the funding will be spent.

The Hartford-based Caribbean Trade Council has long advocated for direct flights between Bradley International Airport and Jamaica citing the large concentration of Jamaican Americans living in Connecticut.

“There’s great interest,” said state Rep. Bobby Gibson, D-Bloomfield, vice chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who has pushed for the flights. “It’s desperately needed. Connecticut has the fifth largest population of people from the Jamaican diaspora in the United States.”

Some have compared the funding for the Jamaica flights to the grants the state gave to Aer Lingus to establish flight service between Bradley and Dublin, Ireland. State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of legislative Appropriations Committee, said the intention is for the $2 million to be “part of an incentive package to encourage flights to Jamaica”

Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, which owns and operates Bradley, said incentives are becoming more common as competition for airline routes intensifies. The airport authority typically offers to waive two years’ worth of fees and charges to airlines considering operating at Bradley.

Federal Aviation Administration rules limit what airports can provide but state agencies and economic development agencies can offer airline companies revenue guarantees. Typically how it works, Dillon said, is an airline determines how much revenue it needs to operate a particular route and the stage agency makes up the difference if the airline doesn’t meet that target.

Jamaica is “a market that we are frequently asked about,” Dillon said, and is among the top international destinations the airport authority is actively pursuing.

“There’s a significant population that we believe would take advantage of a flight to Jamaica as well as the tourism component of it,” he said. “We think it is a very viable route.”

Flight data from the Bradley service area, defined as a 60-minute driving radius around the airport, shows that on average 150 passengers per day back and forth between Jamaica — and that’s before any additional level of stimulation,” Dillon said.

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