RIC Gives NASCAR Fans Discount On Aviation Fuel

March 27--Richmond International Airport is putting its money where its welcome for NASCAR is.

Teams and fans flying corporate and private aircraft into the airport for NASCAR race week April 22-28 will save 6 cents on every gallon of aviation fuel they buy for their planes -- for about a 1 percent savings.

"Just a friendly gesture to NASCAR" is how Troy Bell, the airport's director of marketing and air service development, described the Capital Region Airport Commission's action Tuesday.

The popular auto races are big business for the Richmond region, said Jon E. Mathiasen, the airport's president and CEO.

"It means a lot to us," he said. "It brings us traffic" on RIC's airlines and in private and corporate planes, making waiving the airport's fuel flowage fee a good marketing strategy.

"We have a great partnership with the airport," said Aimee Turner, director of communications for Richmond International Raceway. "They see the benefits of everyone who comes into town for our events -- race teams, drivers, fans in general -- and goes through the airport."

Aircraft based at Richmond International also will be able to take advantage of the waived fee normally charged on aviation fuel sales, Bell said.

Dozens of private and corporate planes fly into RIC for the NASCAR races, making them far and away the busiest times for general aviation at the airport.

"They're parking aircraft on every available corner of asphalt or concrete out here," Bell said. "The (aircraft parking) ramp space fills up nicely."

General aviation jets and turboprop airplanes can take aboard hundreds of gallons of fuel when they top off their tanks. Jet fuel sells for $5.51 to $5.98 a gallon at Richmond.

"A lot of the public is unaware that the drivers have their own private planes, as do the sponsors of the race and the race teams," said Jack Berry, president and CEO of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The airport's race-friendly attitude "just reinforces why drivers like Richmond more than other race destinations," Berry said.

In other business, the airport reported that February's passenger traffic fell 1.4 percent compared with the same month a year ago.

February had an extra day in 2012 because it was a leap year, making the month 29 days long. Each day's traffic represents about 3 percent of an average month's traffic.

RIC's daily average passenger traffic was higher this February than the same month last year. "If we'd have had one more day, we could have easily surpassed last year," Bell said.

Richmond International handled 212,785 air travelers in February versus 215,893 in the same month of 2012.

Passenger traffic is a measure of economic health. RIC's traffic peaked in 2007 at more than 3.6 million passengers and has been relatively flat for the past four years. Richmond International now handles about 3.2 million airline travelers annually.

Delta Air Lines was the airport's market share leader for the month, with 32 percent of RIC's total passengers. US Airways had 21.7 percent of the market and United Airlines' share was 16.2 percent.

Four airlines reported year-over-year passenger growth in February. Delta Air Lines was up 15 percent; AirTran Airways, 7.8 percent; United, 1.3 percent; and JetBlue Airways, 1 percent.

Reaching 9.26 million pounds this February, air cargo moving through the central Virginia field increased 18.4 percent from February 2012.

JetBlue will add a third flight from Richmond to Boston starting May 1. The flight is scheduled as a seasonal operation, Bell said.

"If they do really well, the season becomes longer and they become year-round flights," he said. "We'd like to see the flight do very well and justify JetBlue offering it year-round."

pbacque@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6813

Copyright 2013 - Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

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