Councilor pursues clarity over Worcester airport future

Manager offers reassurance on freight terminal, access road

By Nick Kotsopoulos TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
nkotsopoulos

WORCESTER

With new questions looming about Worcester Regional Airport, one city councilor tonight called for a meeting with Massport officials to discuss the airport’s future.

Also tonight, City Manager Michael V. O’Brien said the Massachusetts Port Authority is not looking to convert the airport into an air cargo facility and the access road issue is not being resurrected.

District 2 Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, chairman of the council’s Public Service and Transportation Committee, said he is inviting Massport officials to meet with his committee to find out firsthand what its plans for Worcester Regional Airport are and to “demystify” issues associated with the airport. He said he hopes to convene a meeting within the next couple of weeks.

“There’s been so much discussion about Worcester airport for the past 20 years and given what happened with Direct Air last week, it makes sense to invite Massport to meet with us and to de-mystify all the naysayers about the airport,” Mr. Palmieri said. “We can also talk with them about what their plans are to find another airline to replace Direct Air.”

Faced with financial woes, Direct Air abruptly suspended its operations last week, leaving Worcester Regional Airport without any scheduled commercial air service.
Councilor-at-Large Michael J. Germain, who wants Massport to consider bringing in Vision Airlines to fill the void in local air service, said the rationale behind his order was to create a discussion with the agency.

“This is meant to facilitate a discussion and create a dialogue,” Mr. Germain said. “What happened here was that an airline (Direct Air) failed, the airport didn’t fail. In fact, the community supported the service that was there. It was a success story for Worcester Airport. But now that the airline has failed we need to find out who would like to fill that void.”

Meanwhile, Councilor-at-Large Konstantina B. Lukes said the failure of commercial air service at Worcester Airport has more than a few people wondering if Massport wants to make the airport a hub for freight service.

She said the City Council should seek some kind of reassurance from Massport that the airport will not end up a freight yard. She said the city already has enough freight yards, with the CSX yard that is being expanded between Shrewsbury and Franklin streets and the Providence & Worcester Railroad intermodal freight facility on Southbridge Street.

“Some people fear there is only one direction the airport is going in,” Mrs. Lukes said. “It seems Massport is not having any more luck with air service at the airport than the city did. If (Massport) has no intentions of using it as a terminal for freight, then they should assure us.”

Mrs. Lukes wanted the City Council to send a letter to Massport seeking clarification about that and the access road issue.

But Mr. Eddy and Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton took exception to some of her remarks, saying she was raising issues that had no basis. Mr. Rushton accused Mrs. Lukes of purposely using “every negative, poisonous buzzword” associated with the airport, and he opposed having any letter sent to Massport.

“We need to go in a more positive direction,” Mr. Rushton said. “I don’t want to see us send a letter; it would be a waste of time.”

But Mrs. Lukes said she was surprised by the personal reaction of some of her colleagues to what she said.

“Since 1990, we have dealt with this issue (the airport) over and over again, and we’ve gotten no where,” she said. “We can’t stick our heads in the sand and call each other names.”

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