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Survey: Albany fliers want service to West Coast, JFK

Friday, June 29, 2012
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— Travelers who fly out of Albany International Airport would like direct flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to a new user survey.

The survey results, released Thursday, show the destinations people want — and that the airport doesn’t currently provide — as the Capital Region becomes more of a hub for technology-driven industries. The findings back what airport officials were already hearing from big customers, said Albany Airport Authority CEO John O’Donnell.

“We’ve been meeting with GlobalFoundries folks and Albany Nanotech folks, and everyone was clear that they wanted to get to the West Coast,” O’Donnell said.

The information will now be shared with airlines serving the airport and other airlines eyeing service to Albany, in hopes they will consider establishing new routes.

Whether Albany International is big enough to support cross-continental service is another question. Albany averages about 2.3 million boardings a year, and East Coast airports that serve the West Coast directly generally have at least 5 million boardings each year.

San Francisco — and nearby Silicon Valley — are desirable destinations for those involved with the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta, the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering, and the various technology businesses that surround them.

“I think people want to get out to other innovation hubs. From the business traveler perspective, that makes sense,” said F. Michael Tucker, president and CEO of the Center for Economic Growth in Albany.

A Kennedy Airport connection would help people traveling to high-tech and financial centers in Europe and the Middle East. GlobalFoundries owns another chip fabrication plant in Dresden, Germany, and the company is owned by an investment fund in Abu Dhabi.

Albany recently lost its once-a-day U.S. Airways service to JFK due to a swap of landing slots between airlines at the airport in Queens. O’Donnell said he believes Albany could support three commuter flights a day to and from JFK.

“With the buildup of technology, we do need the international market,” he said.

The Center for Economic Growth and four regional chambers of commerce backed the survey and pooled $500,000 as an incentive to attract a new airline or convince one of the airport’s current airlines to establish new destinations. Together with a government grant, it means an airline could get up to $1.5 million to establish new service through Albany.

Rather than direct flights to the West Coast, O’Donnell said it is more reasonable to hope for a new mid-point destination, like Dallas, Denver or Houston.

“Those are all hub cities. We can more easily fill a plane to one of those destinations, with the understanding people will go on from there to a variety of other cities,” he said.

About 1,500 people took the online survey. The Albany-Colonie, Schenectady, Saratoga County and Rensselaer County chambers of commerce helped fund the survey. Chamber officials said they think the results will be helpful in appealing to the airlines.

“The airport is a significant engine for economic growth, and air service must keep pace with the emerging needs of our job creators if we intend to continue growing local jobs,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County chamber.

“We complement the airport authority for spearheading this partnership, which has produced valuable data we can use to tailor service to our region’s needs,” said Schenectady chamber President Charles Steiner.

O’Donnell said Albany airport officials meet on a regular basis with high-level airline leaders to talk about service needs and will present them with the survey results during those meetings.

 
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