September 6, 2008

Massport Waives Fees to Get Airline


Massport lured the first commercial air service to Worcester Regional Airport since 2006 by waiving Direct Air's landing, jet bridge and terminal fees for two years as it ramps up business.

The authority and the city of Worcester also will spend up to $300,000 in federal grant money to promote the carrier's new service to southwest Florida, which launches Nov. 22.

"The key for us is marketing, because marketing is the key to sales," said Ed Warneck, Direct Air's president.

Direct Air will operate three nonstop flights a week from the Worcester airport to Orlando Sanford International Airport and another three flights a week to Charlotte County Airport in Punta Gorda, along with return service. It will add more flights if demand dictates, according to Warneck. The privately held airline also plans to start flights from Worcester to its home base of Myrtle Beach, S.C., next spring.

The flights from Worcester will be aboard leather-seated Airbus A320 aircraft leased from Virgin America, which will provide the flight crews.

Direct Air is setting up Worcester operations at a time when most air carriers are cutting routes to counter enormous increases in the cost of fuel. That speaks to the depth of the market, Massport CEO Thomas Kinton Jr. said.

"It's a good start" to making the airport financially viable, said Kinton, who noted Massport is in discussions with other airlines but is not close to signing any deals.

Massport has been operating the struggling city-owned airport since 2000 and is now covering 79 percent of its $2.3 million annual operating deficit.

State Secretary of Transportation Bernard Cohen said the new service should stimulate growth and economic investment in the Worcester area and help relieve passenger traffic at Boston's Logan International Airport, which Massport also operates.

But the lack of direct highway access to the airport has been criticized, though Murray said a Route 146/MassPike connection makes access easier.

In June, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern announced a $3.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant for runway improvements at the airport. The city also has completely repaved Airport Drive and installed new signage.

Direct Air will offer airfares from Worcester for $99 each way, with first-class seats available for a $100 upgrade each way.

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Originally published by By DONNA GOODISON.

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