|I continue to be impressed how hard the Midwest and Midwest metros are working to get a leg up on the competition.|
Can’t get there from here
Need to fly to San Francisco? Seattle? Houston? You’ll have to go somewhere else first. Port Columbus has direct flights to only 32 destinations, but officials are working to increase that number.
By Steve Wartenberg
The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday February 26, 2012 6:23 AM
Every day, an average of 118 travelers headed for San Francisco get on an airplane at Port Columbus.
Instead of flying directly to the city by the Bay, these passengers will land in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Phoenix or Las Vegas and then board a second flight to their final destination.
You can get there from here — but not without a layover.
It’s more of the same for the 54 people headed to London every day, who must fly first to Boston; New York; Newark, N.J.; or even Chicago for the overnight hop across the pond.
While there are approximately 150 daily flights from Port Columbus to about 30 U.S. cities plus Toronto and Cancun, Mexico (on a seasonal basis), several major U.S. cities and all of those in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America cannot be reached via direct flights from the country’s 52nd-busiest airport.
Officials at Port Columbus are working to change that, as they meet with and try to persuade airline executives to add flights to new destinations from Port Columbus. These flights, they say, will increase revenue for the airport and help make Columbus more business-friendly, which in turn could add jobs and otherwise improve the local economy.
Those efforts evidently could pay off soon. There’s a chance, airport officials say, for a trans-Atlantic flight as soon as next year.
“We’re optimistic we will secure European service in the next few years, and the earliest date is the spring or summer of 2013,” said David Whitaker, vice president of business development for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.
London or Paris, he added, is the most likely destination for this flight.
The economic impact of a daily European flight would be about $50 million a year, Whitaker said studies have shown. He added that the airport can offer incentives valued at between $800,000 and $1.1?million a year for two years to an airline willing to offer direct European service.
These incentives come in the form of $300,000 a year to the airline to use for marketing, $392,000 in waived airport space fees, and $134,000 to $424,000 in waived landing fees, depending on the size of the aircraft.
The economic impact comes from local companies’ increasing their international operations and exports and European companies’ doing more business and adding employees here, said Stephen Lyons, vice president of member services for the Columbus Partnership.
“As companies become more global, having an international flight becomes more and more important,” he said.
The projected $50?million economic impact is the reason the Columbus Partnership, a group of local corporate executives, is working with the city, county and state and local businesses to put together an additional revenue guarantee — or subsidy — that could rival the $9?million it took to persuade Delta to introduce nonstop service from Pittsburgh to Paris in June 2009.
“Long term, it’s important to get an international flight to keep Columbus growing,” said Kenny McDonald, the Columbus Partnership’s chief economic officer. “With the amount of international business and international students we have here, it’s another tool in our belt to retain and add companies and build our economy.”
The Pittsburgh-to-Paris flight has cost Pennsylvania and Allegheny Conference on Community Development at least $7?million of the $9?million guarantee, as the revenue generated by Delta did not meet certain minimums during the first two years of operation.
“That’s one of the risks of starting a new product,” said Ken Zapinski, senior vice president of the conference. “We sold as many tickets as the business model projected, but what we didn’t anticipate was the worst economic climate in the last 60 years and the bottom dropping out of the airfare market and ticket prices dropping 35 to 40 percent.”
Pittsburgh had flights to Paris, London and Frankfurt in the late 1990s, but they were all canceled by 2005 — leaving several area companies upset and forcing their executives to make connections to get to these cities.
Without the new flight to Paris, Zapinski said, “any of these companies might have thought about moving to New York, Chicago or Atlanta. We didn’t lose those jobs.”
And this, he added, made the $9?million guarantee a wise investment.
McDonald thinks subsidies for a similar flight from Port Columbus are a sound investment.
An international flight, he said, “is one of the screening criteria companies use when they look at us (to bring operations here). And not having one means we can’t compete for those opportunities.”
Pittsburgh International is the country’s 45th-busiest airport with just under 8?million passengers a year. Port Columbus had 6.2?million passengers last year.
Incentives for domestic flights and incentives and subsidies for international flights have become an industry norm — and can nudge an airline into adding a new route.
The formula airlines use to determine whether to add flights “is like the secret recipe at KFC,”said Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins.
And while he wasn’t about to divulge Southwest’s secret recipe, he did say some of the factors include market demand and fuel costs — and that airport incentives do play a role in decisions.
Southwest added a flight from Port Columbus to Denver in June, even though United already had three daily flights.
“It connects people coming and going in all different directions,” Hawkins said of the flight to the Mile High City. Southwest has the biggest share of the passenger market at Port Columbus, at 28.2?percent.
Whitaker said airport officials meet regularly with route planners from domestic airlines to pitch Port Columbus. “Virgin America is a target for us,” he said, adding that a Columbus-to-San Francisco flight has been discussed, and that there have been discussions with Alaska Airlines for direct West Coast flights.
Port Columbus has several incentives available to attract domestic flights.
For a route without direct service, the airport offers airlines operating out of Port Columbus $50,000 for marketing for destinations with 50 to 99 passengers a day, and $75,000 for destinations with 100 or more passengers.
These passengers currently have to take a connecting flight to get to their final destination.
Only San Diego (106) and San Francisco (118) meet this higher requirement, while Seattle falls just short at 99, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says.
An airline new to Port Columbus would receive the $50,000 or $75,000 for adding a destination, plus an additional, one-time $75,000 incentive.
“Also, if a carrier adds a flight to an already-served market, they get $50,000 after a year if they grow the market by 50 to 99 passengers and $75,000 if they grow it by 100 or more,” Whitaker said. This payment could apply to Southwest’s new Denver flight after a year of service, he said.
Incentives are the bridge that helps airlines ramp up services, Whitaker said.
“The goal is to help them get it up and running and then let the free marketplace work,” he said.