"It's almost like a reverse contract operation. In a typical contract operation — and I worked for Lockheed Air Terminal for over five years, a party like Worcester would contract with Massport for all personnel, operating services, etc. In this situation, the parties have agreed that Massport will provide the management expertise and, for the time being, the majority of labor and staff are provided by the city of Worcester. That would change should the agreement evolve into an ownership agreement."
In fact, the ultimate target is for Massport to assume ownership, but that still needs to be negotiated during the 5-year contract interim.
A key component of the agreement calls for Massport to assume $250,000 of the annual $1 million operating deficit Worcester Airport currently has. "In truth, they're contributing much more," says Waldron. In year two, Massport assumes 45 percent of the deficit; 75 percent in year three; and, 100 percent in years four and five.
Asks Waldron, "So, is Massport motivated to make this work? Absolutely."
Waldron moved back to the region for family reasons after serving some 30 years at other airports, including Cleveland and Port Columbus. He says that in addition to offsetting the deficit, Massport brings with it expertise in planning, financing, legal support, and engineering — resources he did not have available to him from the city.
He assumed the Worcester Airport position some 19 months ago, becoming the seventh airport manager here since 1990. "The mayor, the city council, the city manager have all stated publicly that the city did a miserable job of running an airport. They didn't know how to run it, and many would say they didn't want to run it."
Facilitating the transfer of operations, says Waldron, was the fact that Massport and Worcester have worked together in the past, particularly via a technical assistance agreement. "A lot of people at Massport were familiar with the Worcester Airport."
Massport's Buckingham says the primary thing the agency brings to the Worcester Airport is marketing muscle. "To be frank," she says, "we have leverage with major carriers. They're all looking to invest at Logan. However, we're able to say to an American or a Delta, you also have to look regionally. Thus far, the carriers recognize that."
A POTENTIAL OBSTACLE:
Despite the negative passenger growth in recent years, the Worcester Airport is actually in pretty good shape, says Buckingham. The 7,000-ft. primary runway is in good condition, but the 5,000-ft. crosswind needs a total rebuild. The terminal building is modern, and Worcester has a new control tower and upgraded navaids.
Explains Buckingham, "Our challenge is to convince the Worcester area business traveler to use this airport. Of course, you have to have air service in order to get them to come here."
U.S. Airways Express and Delta/ASA currently provide commercial service, and an agreement was expected to be finalized by late April with American Eagle to provide three to four flights per day to New York's JFK.
But the airport, which sits on a bluff overlooking the city, is accessible only by traveling through town and neighborhoods.
Says Waldron, "The issue on ground access is this: Massport has said, if you want it to assume ownership, it needs an access route that gets users from one of the highways in about 12 minutes average time."
Adds Buckingham, "Access is a local decision. We're not taking the lead as to how and where access will be built. That's really for the community, the environmental regulators, and the highway department to decide.
"Our estimates show Worcester can handle 600,000 passengers a year with improved access."
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.
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