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The departure of Direct Air from Worcester Regional Airport came as a large surprise (pick up the sarcasm.  The only surprising part of it was how abrupt it was.  At least the previous airlines gave the airport some notice that they were pulling out of the airport.  The Direct Air experience in Worcester was simply too good to be true.  I personally have not flown Direct Air so I have no personal opinion regarding the airline.  However, what I have read and heard was mixed.  The day the story broke, I immediately e-mailed a friend of mine that is heading to Florida in April to visit her in-laws.  She and her husband had flown Direct Air previously and had a wonderful experience.  Then there was the fiasco around the holidays when flights were delayed with no explanation to passengers.  Those were the stories you would hear, so the future of the airline was inevitable, but nobody wanted to read the writing on the wall.

So what next at Worcester Regional Airport (ORH)?  The city has wiped its hands clean of it by selling the airport MassPort in 2010.  So is there a difference if the city runs the airport at a loss or if the state does?  It’s all taxpayer money getting thrown at it.  MassPort has said that they will not close ORH because they still feel it is a viable airport.  That’s wonderful news, but it is time for MassPort to fish or cut bait.  The residents of Worcester are fed up with the inconsistency of the airport and want this problem resolved, because to be quite honest we keep throwing money at the problem and it continues to operate at a loss.  Not a popular decision in tough economic times.  MassPort needs to take one thing into consideration when deciding what’s next, the customer.

There are two options when it comes to ORH and they are simply cut in dry.  If MassPort truly feels that ORH is a viable airport they need to put a full court press on and think outside the box, that’s the first option.  The second option is to close the airport and convert the land into a wind farm or sell the land to developers.

I am in support of the first option but a realistic one.  MassPort and the City of Worcester need to get the “Pie in the Sky” attitude when it comes to the airport.  They cannot simply just look at non-connecting carriers when it comes to attracting airlines to ORH, been there, done that and we don’t even have a t-shirt to prove it.  ORH is the FAA abbreviation Worcester REGIONAL airport, which should be the first approach that Massport should take. Start with utilizing the Northeast region for flights.  Work on deals that send flights to Portland, Burlington, Buffalo, Baltimore, New York, Newark and Atlantic City.  In the summer try to get some flights to Martha’s Vineyard.  There may not be many flights going this route, but it is better than nothing.

MassPort needs to start playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with the airlines it deals with.  They should approach Jet Blue and Southwest and waive any airport fees to fly a minimum amount of flights out of Worcester, at the same time give them discounts at Logan Airport to grow their presence there.  Andrew Davis, who is the director of the airport, says that those airlines would not think of that move because Logan airport is only at 85% capacity.  This is where MassPort needs to get crafty, don’t sell it as an overflow option but an additional growth opportunity for those airlines.  Use the “viability” of the airport as a selling point.

Another option Massport can do is use the airport as a connector airport as opposed to the direct route.  Approach the big airlines and offer the puddle jump option for the airlines.  For instance, the people that fly to Orlando, run it through Newark.  Instead of spending an hour in the car and traffic to go to Boston, drive up to Worcester, save a substantial amount on parking and run a connecting flight to Newark.  That flight is an hour long.  It’s a wash.

There is hope for Worcester Regional Airport, if it’s done right.  Accessibility to the airport will always be an issue, but the city council should not address it until MassPort does their job.  Use the new casino law to be an easy access to point to the Western Mass resort, don’t let that go to Bradley.  There is ample opportunity but there needs to be some dealing and a lot of thinking outside the box.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the faith in Massport to do the right thing and they will continue to lose the reported $3 million a year.  I think City Manager Michael O’Brien can work his magic.  Let’s hope so.

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