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Port Columbus

New direct flights require customer demand, official says

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What does it take to add new direct routes to other airports?

It's simple: customer demand.

As Port Columbus International Airport becomes poised to welcome new nonstop flights to other destinations, primarily on the West Coast, it will take months of negotiations to secure those routes, an airport official said last week.

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman and City Council President Andy Ginther announced the formation of the Jobs, Expansion and Transportation Task Force, or JET Task Force, which is charged with finding direct-flight opportunities to other cities.

In the past year, Columbus has added two daily direct flights to Los Angeles, negotiations for which took several years. The only direct flights to the western United States are to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

"The market demand actually causes airlines to create flights," said Tory Richardson, vice president of human resources and strategy at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. "In cases where a community wants nonstop service before demand would dictate, some sort of revenue guarantee and/or direct subsidy is typically necessary.

"Going forward, the air service working group within the JET Task Force will be instrumental in conducting revenue guarantee negotiations with the airlines," he said.

Airport officials are prohibited from getting directly involved in negotiating items such as tax deals and incentives, revenue guarantees and direct subsidies to airlines for providing certain air service, Richardson said.

"Historically, the airport maintains the airline relationships, pitches market opportunities and negotiates items such as lease and use agreements, ticket counter space and other applicable rates and charges for conducting business through airport facilities," he said.

But it takes time and effort to establish those new routes, he said.

Several factors are at play and differ from one airline to another, as well as one market to another.

They include seasonal demand, availability of aircraft and crews, size of existing market and impact on the air carrier's network, Richardson said.

It costs the airport no significant money, save for reduced revenues from fees for a short period, to help establish the flight.

"In that regard, we are not capturing as much revenue as if the airline was paying full fees, but they may not be in a position to do so if it is a startup route for them," Richardson said.

"They will want to mitigate their financial risk to enter the market, and the reduction of fees can be an offsetting incentive for them. Thus, the airline bears the brunt of the financial exposure."

Logistical issues, such as accommodating new services, are few at Port Columbus.

"If it is a new airline, it could take additional time to coordinate executing a lease and determining gate, ticket counter and ramp locations," Richardson said. "An existing airline would already have these areas identified, so it would most likely be just confirming they have the resources available to add additional flights."

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