Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Tucson airport marks big 2016; New York nonstops are a concern
By David Wichner
The Arizona Daily Star
The first Aeromar flight arrived from Hermosillo in October. It also connects to Los Mochis, Mazatlán and Guadalajara.
Airport had a great year in 2016, but is starting 2017 with concerns over keeping its prized new nonstop flights to New York.
The passenger count at Tucson International Airport rose 3.4 percent in 2016, the biggest uptick since 2007. The airport also marked the opening of a new air-traffic control tower, debuted nonstop flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport and renewed air service to Mexico in October.
But filling seats on American Airlines’ nonstop service to New York so the airline will keep flying the route has proven to be challenging.
American was behind forecast flight revenues by about $400,000 in December, and if the shortfall continues the airline could be eligible to collect more than $1 million from a revenue-guarantee fund set up by the Tucson Chamber of Commerce to encourage airlines to start new service, said Tucson Airport Authority board member Bill Assenmacher.
A revenue shortfall also could prompt American to suspend the JFK nonstop over the summer and turn it into a seasonal flight — something local officials want to avoid, Assenmacher said.
Tucson Airport Authority President and CEO Bonnie Allin said the airport does not have all the key data, but American’s nonstop New York flights were full over the Christmas holidays despite American temporarily shifting the flights to a red-eye schedule.
in said the airport, the Tucson Chamber and Visit Tucson have marketed the flight “very aggressively,” but more needs to be done to keep the flights going.
She noted that the Chamber is consulting with a local marketing agency on a stronger promotional push.
“We want to fill those seats so they will add more flights,” she said during the Airport Authority’s annual meeting at the Arizona Inn.
At a later TAA board meeting, Assenmacher said that American has indicated the JFK flights have performed below projections, and that demand during the first 10 days of January was weaker than expected.
Compounding the problem, Assenmacher said, is that revenue per passenger is down on the Tucson-JFK route because American has faced stiff price competition from other carriers’ one-stop flights to New York, preventing it from collecting an expected premium on its five-hour, nonstop route.
ice isn’t the only factor working against American’s Tucson-New York nonstop flight.
Board member Mike Hannley said that when he had to change a return flight recently, he bought a new ticket on Southwest Airlines, rather than pay a high flight-change fee to American.
Assenmacher said it’s also tough to get travelers to switch loyalties from their regular airline, because they want to rack up or use frequent-flier miles.
He said he still believes the JFK flight will be a success, but a stronger marketing effort is needed and local businesses need to use the flights and encourage their employees to fly them.
At least one business has limited its reimbursements to employees who drive to and fly from Phoenix, and the University of Arizona is developing a policy to encourage its employees to fly from Tucson, Assenmacher added.
Allin said it’s important to rally support for the New York nonstops, as well as Aeromar’s new four-day weekly service to Hermosillo and three other Mexican cities.
Data on the performance of the Aeromar flights was not immediately available.
“The key is not to give up — there’s a lot on the line,” Allin said. “If this is not a success, then it’s going to be tougher to attract other flights.”
Tucson Airport Authority Chairman Tony Finley, who was elected to a second term on Monday, said 2016 was a banner year for TIA, citing the new nonstops, news that Raytheon will lease more airport land in a major expansion and progress on the airport’s renovation project, which will enter a major terminal reconstruction phase in March.
Finley, chief financial officer of Long Cos. and Long Realty, said it’s up to the local community to keep the momentum on new flights going, urging authority members to champion the New York and Mexico flights.
“So far, the response to both flights has been extremely positive,” Finley said. “Let’s get our friends to fly from Tucson instead of going up the road to Phoenix.”
The airport authority board added Rob Draper, principal and general manager of O’Rielly Motor Co. Two airport authority board members, David Goldstein and Steven Cole, stepped down as their terms expired.