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MassPort Fails to Seek Funding for Worcester Airport Upgrade

Saturday, August 04, 2012

 

MassPort has failed to seek funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a navigation system upgrade to enhance Worcester Regional Airport’s appeal to commercial airlines.

it has been more than two years since MassPort purchased Worcester Airport from the City of Worcester and during that time the one operational airline has collapsed and no new airlines have been attracted to Worcester Airport.

According to MassPort officials the upgrade in the navigation system is a critical element to secure a new airline in Central Mass.  

Top Lobbyist Tom O'Neill

No Request for Assistance

According to a GoLocalWorcester review, MassPort has not sought assistance from the Massachusetts federal delegation to secure funding, nor has MassPort directly asked FAA for funding of the navigation upgrade.

This lack of action is in spite of the fact that, according to the website opensecrets.org, created by the Center for Responsive Politics, MassPort  has engaged the lobbying firm O'Neill & Associates and paid that firm more than $200,000 (2010 $80,000, 2011 $85,000, and 2012 $45,000 - to date) in lobbying fees to represent and lobby for MassPort in Washington, D.C.

O'Neill & Associates is lead by Tom O'Neill, the son of former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O'Neill.

Delegation Has Not Been Tapped

Airports can receive funds for capital projects in a number of different ways including by seeking grant funding from the FAA, directing funds within their own budget or by requesting a federal legislative earmark.

U.S. Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) office has no record of MassPort asking them to help secure funding.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern’s office would not comment on conversations with the FAA or MassPort, but public records show McGovern has never sought to earmark funds for the Worcester Airport.

U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) did not return phone calls, but according to U.S. Senate documents the junior senator has made no earmark requests on behalf of MassPort during his time in the Senate.  Earmark requests are a formal process and are initiated by the organization or agency seeking funding.  The group must fill out a series of forms and submit them to members of Congress to begin the funding process. 

MassPort Response

MassPort Spokesperson Richard Walsh said in an interview with GoLocalWorcester that MassPort has not sent a letter to the FAA requesting funding for the upgrade.

“We are still in preliminary planning phases,” Walsh said. “We need to go through the initial planning stages – this is sophisticated landing equipment. Funding is farther down the road.”

“This is a key piece that MassPort actually has control over,” Walsh said of the navigation upgrade. “We’re bullish to move forward with it.”

MassPort has failed to take any action to try and fund a new navigation system since acquiring the airport in 2010, despite acknowledging it is one of the few things they can do to encourage commercial growth.

Direct Air was a non-traditional airline that operated out of the airport from 2010 until filing for bankruptcy this March,. Rather than owning planes or hiring pilots, Direct Air chartered planes when passengers booked tickets.

The last airline in Worcester was Allegiant Air, which ran service from Worcester to Orlando from 2005 until summer of 2006 when it left due to high fuel costs and low passenger loads. Previously, back in 2001, the airport had four airlines: Delta Connection, American Eagle, US Airways Express, and Pan American. The last of these four left Worcester in 2003 according to the Boston Globe.

A City Holds Out Hope

Worcester is holding out hope that MassPort and the airport will be able to attract another commercial airline.

“I’m confident we’ll see MassPort be successful in getting another airline in the very near future,” said Worcester City Councilor Philip P. Palmieri.

Palmieri was one of several city councilors to hold a meeting with MassPort officials following the departure of Direct Air in March.

“They assured us they are committed to the Worcester Regional Airport,” Palmieri said. “They said they are actively pursuing airlines.”

Many are enthused about JetBlue CEO David Barger’s Twitter announcement two days ago that he will be making a trip to Worcester.

A Twitter contest, calling on residents to make a one minute video on why JetBlue should come to Worcester, has even been created. The contest features a $2,000 prize for the best video submitted with #JetBlue2ORH.

 

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