Fort Wayne Airport Proposes Incentives To Increase Traffic.

Fort Wayne International Airport officials hope a proposed abatement program will compel airlines to lower prices.

Dave Young, vice president for air service development, said the program would reimburse airlines for certain airport fees based on the number of passengers above last year's totals.

The Traffic and Revenue Improvement Plan (TRIP) will be considered by the Fort Wayne/Allen County Airport Authority at a meeting Tuesday.

"We are not saying, 'Here is a subsidy,'" Young said. "We are saying, 'If you perform, the airport will help you.'"

Significantly lower prices at airports in Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis hamper Fort Wayne International's ability to attract fliers. According to airport research, 55 percent of passengers who should be flying out of Fort Wayne aren't. Indianapolis is the biggest draw, siphoning 31 percent of the potential market.

The airport will spend $100,000 this year on marketing, much of that targeted to families, or leisure travelers. Business travelers account for about 70 percent of Fort Wayne's customers.

Airport officials have long conceded that more traffic would reduce airfares, but the Catch-22 is that high prices keep traffic low.

Young contends the TRIP program will not cost the airport any money because it only forgives fees that will be more than offset by added revenue from parking and gift shop and restaurant spending.

If one of the airport's five existing carriers adds a new market, say a flight to Orlando, it will be eligible for abatements on the flights. If a new carrier wants to start service in Fort Wayne, Young said any airport-related costs can be excused for up to two years.

"We are saying that we want to be able to reach out to the community and show we are doing something."

If approved, the program could be started July 1 and be stopped at any time. Young could not speculate if or how much any airlines would reduce fares, because they alone set their ticket prices.

Through March, the number of passengers departing Fort Wayne in 2006 was down 17 percent compared with the same period last year. Airport officials had set a goal to board 355,000 passengers this year, a standard 10 percent increase over 2005. At current projections, however, the airport could fall as many as 75,000 passengers short.

Copyright: The News-Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Ind. -- 5/29/06

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