Massport CEO sees some brightening on economic horizon

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Oct. 2--NORTH ANDOVER -- Since 2001, the airline industry, like no other, has been hit hard.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks set back air travel by as much as 26 percent at Logan International Airport, according to Massport CEO Tom Kinton, who spoke at The Eagle-Tribune's Weathering the Storm breakfast series yesterday morning.

High prices for jet fuel have put severe pressure on airline companies. And the recession -- the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression -- has cut back travel by about 12 percent, said Kinton, 57, a graduate of Merrimack College, which is a cosponsor of the breakfast series.

"The outlook is overcast," he told about 40 people gathered at The Eagle-Tribune's offices on Route 114, with bond rating companies recently expressing a negative outlook for the airline industry over the next year or two.

But there are a few rays of sunshine peeking through the clouds, Kinton said, with a slight uptick in passenger travel in July and August and a hopeful outlook for the remainder of the year.

In particular, four new airlines started providing service to and from Logan this year -- Virgin America, Sun Country and Southwest and Porter airlines.

The additions complement the 43 airlines that are already there, providing more discount travel options to compete with the more established "legacy" airlines, like American and United.

Because Logan is not a "hub" airport, it is more heavily used by local people.

In fact, 90 percent of the customers who stream through terminal doors are from the region, beginning and ending their flights at the airport.

The ripple effect, as a result, is a stronger regional economy. He said Massport is heavily invested in capital improvements, opening up opportunities for local companies to take part in building projects.

Massport, Kinton said, was established by the Legislature 50 years ago and is supported by its own revenues, fees and investments.

It doesn't use any taxpayer money to support its 1,200-person staff, he said.

Massport is responsible not only for Logan, but also for Hanscom Field and Worcester Regional Airport, as well as cargo terminals in the Port of Boston and the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, which hosts cruise ships from all over the world. Massport also runs the Tobin Bridge.

Hanscom is home to a fleet of corporate jets used by local companies to get to markets all over the world.

The Black Falcon terminal recently had three cruise ships in port, carrying thousands of passengers, many of whom ventured to area tourist attractions.

Massport also is doing its part to combat global warming by building environmentally friendly terminals, putting solar panels on the roof of a new parking garage, using low-energy lights and operating a fleet of compressed natural gas buses.

He said Logan is doing what it can to change the perception that it is easier for travelers to fly out of Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H., by improving parking, security and customer service.

The airport works closely with the Transportation Safety Administration and the Massachusetts State Police to make things more pleasant for customers.

"They are on a security mission, but that doesn't mean they have to be mean," he said.

Kinton's position as CEO of Massport caps at 31-year career at Massport, where he started as a temporary employee in 1976.

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