Hopeful words on air service decision By Steven H. Foskett Jr. TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Massport officials at a City Council subcommittee meeting Monday danced carefully around the buzz that has been building about big doings at Worcester Regional Airport.
Massport Aviation Director Edward C. Freni used very careful words like “hopeful” and “potential” in talking with the Public Service and Transportation Subcommittee about bringing commercial airline service to the airport.
But the visit from Mr. Freni, along with John P. Pranckevicius, Massport’s chief financial officer, comes ahead of a meeting Wednesday, to be hosted by Massport and public officials, to discuss commercial air service at the airport, and the elephant in the room, of course, was JetBlue.
Massport, state and city officials have been trying to persuade executives from JetBlue Airways Corps. to start flights to and from the city.
Asked directly after the meeting if JetBlue was coming to Worcester, Mr. Freni said he couldn’t comment on anything that definitive; he said Massport has worked closely with the airline, and will continue to work closely with it.
During the meeting, Mr. Freni characterized the efforts to get JetBlue to Worcester as “very successful,” following up by saying he was hopeful “we’ll be seeing commercial air service at that airport very soon.”
In talking about how sequestration cuts in Washington have impacted the airport, Mr. Freni said he was confident that the 10,000-passenger threshold the Federal Aviation Administration used when deciding where to withdraw from air control towers will be met quickly “when we introduce commercial service into Worcester.”
Worcester Regional Airport has been without passenger service since the collapse of Direct Air last year. The airport is scheduled to lose its air traffic controllers because of federal budget cuts, but planes can land there using other procedures.
“JetBlue can operate under those conditions,” Mr. Freni said. “And other commercial airlines can operate under those conditions.”
He said Massport continues to talk with many different airlines, but is focused now on an airline that can go into a Southern market right away. He said that after establishing a schedule, the expectation would be to expand into business markets like New York and Chicago.
“That’s what we’ve discussed as far as the future,” Mr. Freni said. “You don’t just introduce two destinations and think that’s the end of it. In order for any airline to survive, they have to build their schedule, probably to at least half a dozen flights a day.”
Subcommittee Chairman Philip P. Palmieri asked about the timing of flights for a potential business flight schedule.
Mr. Freni said that in general Logan International Airport doesn’t have restrictions, but there generally isn’t a lot of traffic in the early morning hours. He envisioned an airline in Worcester having most flights initially leave in the morning and afternoon, but said “24-7” flights are not going to happen.
Councilor Kathleen M. Toomey asked about price points; she said high ticket prices in the past have driven customers to other regional airports.
Mr. Freni said, “I think that you’ll be very pleased with the price points that will open up service,” adding that prices will likely remain competitive as a schedule is built out.
The “airline that we’re dealing with” is cognizant of that, and is confident they can start new business in Worcester, he added.
“This is an airline, and that’s huge,” Mr. Freni said. “Direct Air was an air service. They rented their crews and they rented their airplanes. When you get a quality airline in a city like Worcester whose already proven, like you said, that the business is there, then their price points will be competitive to keep the business going and to introduce new markets; there’s no doubt in our minds.”
Talking about the very public wooing of JetBlue by the city and local business community that coincided with a visit by JetBlue officials over the summer, Mr. Pranckevicius said the airline was “most impressed with what took place in August 2012.” He said the business community has been instrumental in Massport’s marketing efforts. He said that for “this project” to meet its potential, drawing customers from the region will be critical.
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