A REGIONAL INITIATIVE
Massport seeks to turn around Worcester Airport while helping meet future New England demand
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
WORCESTER, MA — In January, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) took over operational control of the Worcester Airport, located 60 miles west of Boston Logan International. The initial goal is to bring the airport's operations budget into the black. Long-term, however, the agency sees Worcester as playing a key role in meeting future air carrier demand throughout a four-state region.
Comments Massport executive director and CEO Virginia Buckingham, "Governor (Paul) Cellucci's main priority is keeping the economic success of the region on track. An important part of that is infrastructure.
"The governor's able to take a statewide view and is able to argue for statewide economic development."
Adds Worcester (pronounced "WOOS-ter") airport director Eric Waldron, A.A.E., "The governor and Ginny Buckingham have taken a very aggressive approach toward regionalization. It's something that you are seeing on a different level happening even in the Midwest — with Cleveland and Akron-Canton and Youngstown. You're starting to see those links."
If Massport's efforts are successful, it will also help offset the large movement of travelers that are now traveling to Manchester, NH, and Providence, RI, to take advantage of service offered by low-fare carriers at the airports there.
Buckingham has been in her current position some seven months and was recommended to it by the Governor, for whom she previously served as chief of staff.
"This is a regional transportation issue; it really is. You saw T.F. Green Airport (Providence) and Manchester begin to make the kind of investment in their facilities to attract new air service, then bring in competition, and improve their access so people can get there faster. And you really saw people voting with their feet.
"In the early ’90s, our stats show that eight out of ten new New England passengers came to Logan. In the last three years, it's completely turned around."
Meanwhile, as neighboring airports have grown in air carrier service, Worcester has declined dramatically — from more than 360,000 passengers per year in the late ’80s to just under 50,000 in 1999.
Says Buckingham, "T.F.Green, Manchester, and Worcester really form a unique regional system. With Logan, we have four airports within a one-hour drive of one another that offer viable service."
According to Waldron, airline passenger forecasts from the Federal Aviation Administration alone justify undertaking a serious growth initiative at Worcester.
"If you segment out New England's share of that forecast," he says, "it's about 23 million additional passengers by 2010. That's the equivalent of one new Logan Airport, 4.5 T.F. Greens at their present rate of passenger handling, 8.2 Manchesters, or 3.7 Bradleys (Hartford).
"Where are you going to find the acreage in proximity to the population base to put in a new airport to meet that demand? Well, the answer is you're probably not going to find a suitable site and, yet, you're going to have demand continue to grow.
"I like the odds of us succeeding."
A 5-YEAR AGREEMENT
Discussions for the current five-year agreement between the city of Worcester and Massport began in late 1998, explains Waldron, under a directive from Governor Cellucci. Less than a year later, an agreement was reached in which Massport would assume operational control of Worcester Airport, which it did officially on January 15. "On January 20th, I became a Massport employee," says Waldron.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Massport - and not just because it has picked up much of the municipal airport's operating deficits.
It is therefore a given that the next operating agreement with Massport should lead to the authority taking title to the 1,300- acre facility.
The event also marked a milestone for the Worcester Regional Airport, restoring it to "primary airport" status and making it eligible for $1 million a year in grant funds from the Federal Aviation...
In its first week of passenger air service in almost three years, the Worcester Regional Airport is posting brisk business.