Northwest News

City task force sights set on more direct flights

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Mayor Michael B. Coleman wants to position Port Columbus International Airport as a destination for more nonstop flights, particularly to the West Coast.

To that end, Coleman has assembled a 14-member panel that will look at increasing direct flights, expanding economic development and examining the feasibility of making Port Columbus a regional transportation center.

The Jobs, Expansion and Transportation Task Force, or JET, will meet over the next several months to develop a plan to make the airport a hub for both passengers and business.

According to the mayor's office, Port Columbus generates more than 33,000 jobs with more than $1.1 billion in annual payroll. An additional 24,000 jobs could be created in the region around the airport, studies show.

Residents and business leaders have long bemoaned a lack of local direct flights, particularly to the West Coast. Some strides have been made over the years, but post-recession consolidation and cutbacks in the airline industry eliminated much of the progress.

Columbus has had some success in the past year, adding two daily direct flights to Los Angeles. However, the only direct flights to the western United States are L.A., Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Dan Williamson, spokesman for the mayor, said there's much to be gained economically and culturally from successful cities on the West Coast, which might have overlooked Columbus in the past. Each day, 142 direct flights carry passengers from Port Columbus to 31 destinations.

"We're a different city now than we used to be," Williamson said. "There are more people visiting Columbus.

"There are more people living in Columbus. And there are more jobs here than ever before. So it makes sense to have direct flights."

The mayor has his eyes set on one city in particular: San Francisco.

"The mayor wants to go beyond that," Williamson said. "That's a victory that's close at hand. We just want to keep the momentum going beyond that."

Dan Rosenthal, president of Milestone Aviation Group and chairman of the mayor's task force, agreed branching out with nonstop flights could change the dynamic of the city over time.

"It's a game changer for the people in the community here and it's a game changer for the people who want to visit," Rosenthal said.

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