Cleveland looks to land nonstop flights; City to offer incentives for new service

Cleveland wants to entice airlines to add nonstop flights at Hopkins International Airport by contributing up to $3.5 million toward advertising and startup costs for new service over the next five years.

The City Council introduced legislation this week to create an Airline Incentive Program, which airport officials hope will establish new or more-frequent nonstop service to U.S. cities mainly in the Southeast and West.

Todd Payne, chief of marketing and air service development at Hopkins, said federal guidelines prevent him from naming cities that would be targeted under the program.

But destinations with little or no nonstop service from Hopkins - Seattle, for example - are likely prospects.

If the plan is approved by the council, the airport would offer a total of $595,000 for marketing assistance and would waive up to $2.75 million in fees that airlines pay to land at Hopkins, Payne said. The waivers would be for six months.

The money would come from the airport's development fund, which is financed by parking, rental and other fees.

Spending from this fund does not require approval from the airlines.

An airline that adds a nonstop flight to a destination approved by airport officials could receive $10,000 to $40,000 to promote the new service, Payne said. To get the most assistance, airlines must agree to match the airport money.

The airline would have to commit to operate the flight for a year or more. Existing service that grows from seasonal to year-round is also eligible for the marketing money, but it must operate for a minimum of 18 months.

Payne said the program would be available to existing airlines, as well as to any new airlines that might come to Hopkins.

"This program is as much to support existing airlines as it is to support additional airlines" coming here, Payne said.

Incentive programs to increase service have become common at airports across the country, industry experts say.

In Columbus, for example, airlines have added nonstop flights to nine new cities since 2003 - including Los Angeles, San Diego and Raleigh, N.C. - using the city's incentive program.

Columbus offers up to $75,000 to defray marketing costs for new service, airport spokeswoman Carrie Hoover said. In addition, landing fees are waived for a year.

Akron-Canton Airport has offered financial incentives for the past 10 years to airlines that create service.

Spokeswoman Kristie VanAuken said incentives are determined case by case. But they typically include a year of waived landing fees and tens of thousands for marketing costs.

She credits the incentive program for helping to attract Frontier Airlines - which offers direct flights from Akron to Denver - to the airport.

"It's been extremely successful for us," VanAuken said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: svinella@plaind.com, 216-999-5010


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