Worcester woes

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Aug 20, 2002
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[STRONG][FONT face=HELVETICA size=4]US Airways'' Exit May Doom Worcester, Mass., Airport[BR][/FONT][/STRONG][FONT face=HELVETICA size=2]Source: The Boston Globe [BR]Publication date: 2003-01-23[BR][/FONT][BR][BR][FONT face=Helvetica, Arial size=2]Jan. 23--What do you do with a $16 million terminal when no one wants to fly from your airport?
[P][A class=mlink href=http://cnnmoney.yellowbrix.com/pages/cnnmoney/coOverview.nsp?coID=1031&ID=cnnmoney&scategory=Aviation&]US Airways[/A], the last remaining commercial airline to operate out of Worcester Regional Airport, notified the city Tuesday it will ground the three daily flights to Philadelphia, after Feb. 8, turning the airport into Massachusetts'' own no-fly zone.
[P]Worcester Regional Airport, a financial millstone for the city and the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, is the latest casualty of the staggering losses of the airline industry. More than $30 million has been spent in the last decade to make the airport a success.
[P]Massport cajoled airlines into looking at Worcester, but even when airline traffic was at historic highs in 2000, the airport had little draw. As recently as a year ago, four commercial airlines flew from the airport. Next month, there will be none. Now, officials must decide will it ever break even, and what its worth to the community is.
[P]I don''t know what the magic formula is, but clearly we are at a crossroads, said US Representative Jim McGovern, a Worcester Democrat. I don''t expect a miracle in a year or two, or maybe even five, but before we put up the RIP sign, we need to consider what we will be sacrificing 10 years from now if there is no airport.
[P]McGovern, along with Democratic Senators John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy, has called for a meeting of elected officials, airline and state officials, to discuss the future of the airport.
[P]For Massport, which operates the airport after signing a five-year agreement with Worcester that took effect in January 2000, the loss of all commercial flights at the airport signals a failure in the agency''s efforts to build a regional network of airports to take passengers away from Boston''s Logan International Airport. Massport used regionalization as a keystone in its efforts to win approval for a controversial new runway at Logan.
[P]Massport is losing something like $2 million a year at Worcester, said a former employee familiar with the airport. There are lots of hidden costs as well; they would buy equipment for Logan and send year-old stuff out to Worcester. And they gave away a lot at Logan to airlines in exchange to get them to go to Worcester.
[P]Massport spokesman Jose Juves said regionalization of the area''s aviation needs is succeeding because of increased use of T.F. Green Airport, outside Providence, and Manchester Airport in New Hampshire.
[P]The main sources of revenue for an airport operator are terminal rents and landing fees. With neither coming in at Worcester, it is expected that the operating deficit will increase.
[P]There are no cargo flights at Worcester, something Massport officials wanted. Local politicians, however, did not want truck traffic going through neighborhoods near the airport at odd hours, Massport officials said.
[P]Juves said Massport''s expenses at Worcester have risen from $250,000 in 2000 to a proposed $2.1 million this year because the state agency has assumed all operating deficits at the airport.
[P]The city, however, still has debt payments on $35 million in capital improvements, like the terminal, and calls for the airport to remain operational, said city manager Thomas Hoover. Hoover said the city and Massport are negotiating on continuing the operating agreement.
[P]Worcester Mayor Tim Murray, who was flying to Washington out of T.F. Green, said Notwithstanding the problems at the airport, Worcester is 45 minutes to an hour from our major airports -- Logan in Boston, Green, Manchester and Bradley outside Hartford -- so people have a lot of options, and the airlines could not get the volume they needed at Worcester.
[P]And the problems at Worcester are significant. First, there is no easy direct route from the Massachusetts Turnpike, secondly, flying out of Worcester was frequently much more expensive than options at the other area airports, and because the flights were so few, connections at hub cities to other destinations were problematic.
[P]I would always check to see if it was possible to fly out of Worcester, but the fares were higher. It was cheaper to drive to Logan and park, and connections did not always work, said Daniel Senie, president of Amaranth Networks Inc. in Bolton. Senie liked to fly from Worcester because he found it convenient and less crowded, but with the I-90 connector open to Logan, he said he can now get to Logan more quickly than he can get to Worcester Airport.
[P]US Airways spokesman David Castelveter said 13 employees at Worcester could be reassigned to Boston or face layoffs. The airline filed for bankruptcy protection last August; United Airlines filed in December.
[P]One of our goals when we went into reorganization was to maintain service to as many communities as we could. Having to pull out of Worcester, where we have been for many years, was difficult, but the demand does not support the service. [/P][/FONT]
 

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