It may not have much aviation activity, but Worcester Regional Airport continues to attract government funding.
The latest proposal to pump more money into the struggling airport comes from U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, who this week attached an amendment to the Federal Aviations Administration appropriation bill, now before Congress, that would direct $2 million to the facility in four annual installments.
The money would be used to improve runways and possibly put in a new one, according to Kerry spokeswoman Brigid M. O'Rourke.
Why the funding measure would come up now that city officials are negotiating the possible sale of the money-losing airport to the Massachusetts Port Authority was a matter of some puzzlement to Mayor Konstantina B. Lukes, who maintains the city should get out of the airport business. She said it makes sense for Massport to rely on federal funds, rather than its own, to invest in the airport.
"If they're going to take over ownership and our deficit, they're not going to pour their own money into it," Mrs. Lukes said.
Massport officials said Mr. Kerry's measure would simply reauthorize funding for the FAA's Airport Improvement Program, which regional airports use to modernize physical facilities, such as runways and terminals.
"It's needed for airfield improvements. That's what that money is for," said Richard Walsh, a spokesman for the authority. "The purpose of the amendment is to allow airports such as Worcester to have access to a much-needed pool of money.
"In the context of the much larger regional aviation system, Worcester needs that pot of money to ensure that when service returns - and we hope and expect that it will - that we're not playing catch-up," he said.
The city has been racking up an annual deficit of more than $1 million to keep the airport running, with Massport picking up about two-thirds of the shortfall under the current lease, which runs out this year.
Meanwhile, the last scheduled commercial flight took off from the airport last September. Allegiant, the low-cost carrier that ran Worcester-Orlando flights for nine months, pulled out after initially saying it would be here for five years.
Allegiant's departure was the latest in a long string of commercial failures at the airport, which has seen airlines come and go over two decades.
Even with the airport's recent problems, several aviation studies have said that small- and mid-sized regional airports can be successful in the future as hubs for both commercial service and small-plane "general aviation" traffic, as bigger airports reach capacity.
"Smaller airports like ours in Worcester can attract more customers when they have the resources they need to compete," Mr. Kerry said in a prepared statement. "This funding will allow Worcester Airport to make the necessary improvements to their infrastructure and attract more carriers and passengers.
"This is good for Worcester, for passengers looking for more options, and will help increase competition, to give Massachusetts travelers lower prices and more choice," Mr. Kerry said
The state Aeronautics Commission in 2003 awarded a $214,000 grant to the airport for security upgrades after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, even though the airport at that time had no commercial passenger service.
Worcester's former budget director, John P. Pranckevicius, started this month as director of administration and finance for Massport. Some observers think his Worcester roots could provide an important link between the autonomous transportation authority and the city to keep the airport viable.
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