Surveys Won't Save Worcester Airport

While it is hard to sort out how the DOT money or the funds allocated for consultants, is being spent, this much is clear: No new commercial air service has resulted yet from any of those endeavors.

The AFA study revealed that Worcester Regional Airport has a "catchment area" of 2.2 million passengers, but more than half of them use Logan International Airport. The FAA "sensitivity analysis" concluded that a 10-minute reduction in ground access travel would increase the 2020 forecast of 284,000 passengers by 40 percent, to 395,000 travelers. Other surveys, including the IMG study, reached similar conclusions.

Both the master plan and FAA reports outline low, medium and high growth scenarios through 2020. Both emphasize the importance of a mix of general and corporate aviation, economic development of airport property, and attracting "niche" commercial flights. Worcester has solicited bids for a site that could be developed for aircraft hangars. There has been no response. Bids for a second, and larger, location are expected to go out soon. The city recently signed an agreement with Coordinates Corp., a Lexington-based enterprise with ties to MIT, to maintain a large corporate jet here, as a subtenant of Swissport, the airport's current FBO.

Even the low-growth scenario, which envisions only a general aviation airport, stresses the need for immediate capital investment in runway safety, security, navigational technology and building improvements. Recently approved consulting fees for architectural and engineering work alone amount to more than $2 million.

The medium-growth scenario calls for a regional commercial airport with service to return to the pre-Sept. 11 passenger level, in addition to robust corporate and general aviation. It envisions 284,000 travelers by 2020. The high-growth scenario, which expects to surpass the peak service of the 1980s, projects 536,000 passengers. The level of capital investment grows with each scenario.

The surveys outline potential funding sources but offer no cost analyses for any of the scenarios. It is clear, however, that even if up to 80 percent of the money comes from federal and state sources, the city's share would still amount to millions of dollars.

As in the past, all surveys emphasize the need for improved customer service, environmental protection, marketing and community involvement to "increase awareness among the public, airline industry, civic and business leaders." There are calls for sustaining current grants and securing new ones. And so it goes. We've heard it all before.

Worcester Regional Airport doesn't need any more surveys, studies, reports or expensive consultants. Its future pretty much depends on the outcome of the city's negotiations with Massport on the extent and conditions of the authority's involvement. Surveys cannot ensure the airport's success, but Massport could.

Robert Z. Nemeth's column appears regularly in the Sunday Telegram.

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