The Massachusetts Port Authority yesterday agreed to extend its financial support of Worcester Regional Airport for six months.
Massport's board, meeting in Boston, approved an extension of its operating agreement for the airport from June 30 to the end of December so Massport and the city can continue talks on who will pick up the tab for the money-losing airport, a Massport official said.
"It's just providing time for Massport and the city to continue negotiations," said Richard P. Walsh, a spokesman for Massport.
Massport has operated the beleaguered Worcester airport since 2000. The facility now
has no commercial airline service and has struggled in recent years to keep airlines that ventured to the airport. The last carrier, Allegiant Air, ended service to Orlando, Fla., in September 2006 after just nine months of operation. Allegiant initially had told officials it expected to stay at the airport five years.
Although the airport continues to serve the small planes and private jets that make up general aviation traffic, it has been losing money. Massport has been picking up 68 percent of the operating deficit, leaving the remaining 32 percent of the operating deficit to the city. For Massport, the bill has been about $1.4 million a year.
City Manager Michael V. O'Brien is negotiating with Massport to have the agency take over all of the airport's operating costs. Under Mr. O'Brien's budget for fiscal year 2008,
that would reduce the city's financial burden to about $783,000, down from $1.59 million this
fiscal year. The city's funds would go to debt, land leases and other nonoperating expenses.
In a written statement released yesterday, Mr. O'Brien said the Massport board's decision to extend the negotiation period provides time to work out a new, long-term agreement.
"Time was of the essence due to the fact that this was the last Massport board meeting prior to the expiration of our existing agreement," Mr. O'Brien said in the statement. "Today's vote was critical and signals that these talks will continue in good faith and that these negotiations are best served at the bargaining table."
Even as Mr. O'Brien has been seeking more support from Massport, money and alternate strategies have been proposed for the airport. City Councilor-at-Large Dennis L. Irish has urged the city to consult with investment bankers about pitching the airport to infrastructure fund managers and investors.
U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., has attached an amendment to a federal aviation appropriation bill that would send $2 million to the airport over four years for runway improvements.
The deal: The Massachusetts Port Authority yesterday agreed to extend its financial support of Worcester Regional Airport for six months.
The problem: The airport continues to serve small planes and private jets, but it has been losing money.
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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.
"Currently, we are only engaged with Massport about the airport's future and that may not necessarily get us the best deal possible for this valuable asset," said Councilor-at-Large Dennis L. Irish.
Little is publicly known about the status of the talks, including whether an outright sale of the property to the state agency is in the offing.
Kerry attaches amendment to bill