Airports set lures for non-stop flights

To be eligible for Boston's new incentives, an airline must introduce at least three weekly flights to targeted foreign destinations, including Asia, Central America, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Mexico City.

The airport will reduce the landing fees by 75% in the first year and 25% in the second. A typical Boeing 747 flight pays about $2,600 per flight in landing fees. The airport will also pay for some advertising.

Patrick Moscaritolo, CEO of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, says representatives from hotels, universities and local companies have grumbled about the lack of non-stop service to foreign cities other than the European service already in place.

Logan "really is New England's airport," he says. "It's been very Eurocentric, but the New England population is changing."

He estimates the city lost about $4 million in unrealized revenue last year from Japanese tourists who might have visited the city to see Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, had there been a direct flight from Tokyo.

Smaller airports have also been in on the action. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's incentive program has spent nearly $4 million through outlays and fees that have been forgiven.

In return, it's gained 13 new routes since 2001 that are still running, says marketing executive Stephen Belleme. Among them: Tallahassee, Denver, London and Caribbean destinations. The airport's international terminal is now at full capacity.

Fort Lauderdale has drawn some criticism of the program for being too generous.

"We were giving away money we didn't have to give away," says John Rodstrom, a Broward County commissioner whose jurisdiction includes the airport.

Airport executives late last year suspended the incentive program. They're now considering a new program for later this year that will be focused. What may emerge is a program for air service to Europe, South America or the West Coast.

Incentives have also played a crucial role in propping up airports that are steadily losing service.

As of last year, Cleveland Hopkins had lost about 13% of its flights since its pre-9/11 days. But with a mix of financial incentives and by making more space available, the airport received commitment from Continental last year to build a mini-hub, resulting in 40% more flights in the next two years.

"A large majority" of the new flights will be eligible for incentives, including waiving landing fees for six months, says Todd Payne, the airport's marketing chief.

The airport is hoping to draw more non-stop flights, particularly to the West Coast and major European cities such as Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

"We're sensitive to the numbers being down since 2001," he says. "Now airports have to stand up and promote themselves."

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