The number of passengers using Port Columbus continues to grow. Part of the increase has been spurred by new Southwest Airlines service to the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, Washington and Boston.
Now the airport authority says non-stop flights to Europe and Asia are in the foreseeable future.
Hundreds of passengers crowd a homeland security checkpoint at a Port Columbus concourse. More than 620,000 passengers used the airport in June, for example. And the numbers continue to increase. Even so, there are no regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights … not yet anyway. But Airport Authority Vice President David Whitaker says it’s just a matter of time.
“We’re going to have non-stop service to Europe and Asia out of Port Columbus. The harder question – and it’s much, much harder – is when. And I can’t answer that with great specificity at the moment,” Whitaker says.
It’s not for lack of trying. Last year officials visited London to try to lure British Airways to Columbus. But at the moment, Whitaker says, nothing is imminent. There’s general consensus that international service, though, is just around the corner.
“It’s a matter of time and timing,” says Seth Young.
Seth Young directs Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies. Young agrees that the time may soon be right for a regular non-stop flight to Europe.
“In the last several years, we’ve seen a downsizing of service in Cleveland and Cincinnati and we’ve seen an upswing in the economic growth of Columbus. So we are really becoming the hub of Ohio’s economic activity. So this may be the time where the airlines see Columbus as the optimal point or destination for international service in this region,” Young says.
There’s a lot of factoring that goes into an airline’s decision to establish new service. Seth Young says the planes themselves are expensive and they’re expensive to operate, so the carrier will allocate an airliner where it can generate the most revenue.
Last year, about 50 passengers a day departed Columbus for London. Young says if that figure doubles, Columbus would be an attractive market.
“If we could garner a hundred to two hundred passengers per day that looks very marketable to an air carrier. With the population that we have here in the metro area, that’s growing, with 15-plus Fortune 1000 companies, state government and a very large university, there’s a lot of reasons to have that service,” Young says.
Young says the airport authority might sweeten an offer by adding certain incentives.
“A lot of free marketing will be offered to the carrier to promote the service. Rent breaks. So every time a carrier uses an airport they pay a rent for the use of that gate so there are lots of opportunities to offer highly discounted space. Even so far as revenue guarantees; if the air carrier says we need at least 100 seats out of a 150 on the airplane sold, the airport might guarantee that every flight goes out with 100 sold tickets,” Young says.
Young says the Columbus region’s population compares favorably with other cities in the Midwest.
“Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, all within this region. So there are definitely cases where cities of our size have international service which leads me to believe that our demand warrants that kind of service. Again it’s where the airlines choose to set up shop,” Young says.
Despite the presence of Honda in the Central Ohio region, Young says he thinks flights to Asia may be further off.
“Detroit seems to be having a lot of flights to Asia. Chicago has a lot of flights to Asia. So for any carrier to pull a flight off that market and move it to Columbus, seems a little less likely at this time,” says Young.