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"Airport tries out incentives to lure airlines back to New Orleans"


 
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Monday, December 25, 2006

Airport tries out incentives to lure airlines back to N.O.
By Jaime Guillet
New Orleans (LA) City Business
 
Sean Hunter, interim aviation director for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, said he is optimistic air service will return to pre-Katrina levels by late 2007 or early 2008. (Photo by Frank Aymami)
Sean Hunter, interim aviation director for Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, said he is optimistic air service will return to pre-Katrina levels by late 2007 or early 2008.
Service at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport continued to improve from post-Katrina’s 2005 ridership but with fewer flights available, questions remain about how quickly the recovering airport will be back in full flight.

2006 was a turbulent year thanks to decreased air service, the resignation of aviation director Roy Williams and a perception the airport was unable to meet demand for conventioneers after Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. canceled its 2007 convention in New Orleans.

“The tourism industry and the airport partner together to make sure there is accurate information about the need for added air service,” said Sean Hunter, interim aviation director. “Then we evaluate to make better service available.”

The airport is running at 66 percent of its pre-Katrina air service with 599,673 passengers in November compared with 906,973 in November 2004. Ridership and flights increased seven of the last 10 months with the exception of decreases between July and September.

The New Orleans Aviation Board approved an initiative program to encourage airlines to restore pre-Katrina air service levels. Airlines qualify for a 75 cent-per-seat credit for scheduled departing seats if the airline is over 85 percent of its pre-Katrina level for one year. The airlines also qualify for a landing fee waiver for offering service to an airport not now served from Armstrong for one year. The potential cost of the initiative is an estimated $600,000 annually — if passenger levels and flights fail to increase.

“Hopefully the airlines will see it as a way to ease their cost and add service to get to their pre-Katrina levels,” said Hunter. “I’m optimistic about that happening.”

Hunter’s estimate for air service to return to those levels by late 2007 or early 2008 is optimistic, said Ira Weinstein, president of a White Plains, N.Y.-based airport management consulting firm Airport Interviewing & Research Inc.

“My opinion is that’s an aggressive goal,” Weinstein said. “(Nationally), we don’t see a lot of positive buzz about the city. That’s why I feel a significant increase of air service in two years is not on the high radar of the carriers.”


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