In early May, Northwest Airlines may join US Airways at Ithaca-Tompkins County Regional Airport, offering two daily non-stop flights to its domestic and international hub in Detroit. The Tompkins County Legislature unanimously agreed to authorize final negotiation of an agreement with Northwest by a unanimous vote on Tuesday night.
The service essentially replaces the discontinued US Airways service to Pittsburgh, which ended in early November, by establishing a westbound route for Ithaca travelers. From Detroit, passengers will be able to fly to Chicago, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Tokyo, among other destinations.
Fares are expected to be consistent with fares offered by Northwest’s service out of Binghamton and Elmira, and tickets are scheduled to go on sale in early February.
Last fall, Tompkins County’s Air Service Task Force began looking for another air carrier for the airport, and placed a “high priority” on westbound service due to the discontinued Pittsburgh route.
The agreement with Northwest, which is expected to be completed within the next week, will include economic incentives to lessen the risk that Northwest faces by entering the Ithaca market.
According to a press release, the county will waive landing fees for Northwest for one year and provide marketing and set-up costs.
In addition, a group of local businesses and educational institutions, including Cornell and Ithaca College, has committed to a revenue guarantee of up to $250,000, if Northwest’s revenue target of $5.3 million is not achieved in the first year.
“We anticipate reaching and surpassing [the revenue threshold],” said Larry Baum, co-chair of the Air Service Task Force.
“Data from aviation consultants has shown that reasonable usage would overcome the [$5.3 million target],” he added.
According to Charles Hamilton ’95, a Park Leadership Fellow who has worked full-time for the task force since May, Cornell also has a pending deal to spend additional money on tickets for the new service.
“Cornell University welcomes this opportunity to bring another air carrier to Tompkins County, expanding travel options for the region. … Cornell will do its part in helping make sure this initiative is a success,” stated Tommy Bruce, Cornell’s vice president of communications and media relations, in a press release.
The additional airline will increase traffic in the airport terminal.
“We are excited to have the new service here,” said Tony Rudy, assistant airport manager. “Northwest’s service is going to complement the US Airways service well,” he added. According to Rudy, the two airlines will now be able to share certain fixed costs at the airport, creating a favorable situation for both carriers.
Reaching the tentative agreement required public and private entities to work together. “I am really excited about the new airline, but I am more excited about how it happened,” said Tim Joseph, chair of the Tompkins County Legislature.
He said that it took a “tremendous public-private partnership” to attract Northwest and that the community “recognized a common interest and worked together” to make it happen. “It was especially exciting to see the business community come through,” he added. “Good air service is a key to economic development.”
While the addition of Northwest is widely seen as a positive step, some worry about US Airways’ recent financial troubles and restructuring into a “low-cost carrier.”
“We really hope that US Airways can work through this,” Baum said.
“They are a big part of the community and they have been for a long time,” Rudy said. “We wish US Airways well.”
Hamilton said that he had dialogue with Delta Airlines and American Airlines during the process and that he is “always considering more partners.”
“We understand that the landscape has changed in the last couple years. Our representatives are going to be in touch with other airlines on a regular basis,” Baum said.
Thomas Becher, a spokesperson for Northwest was unable to comment about the agreement, but said that the vote was the next step in the process and that the airline “hope[s] that the plan will continue.”
“It has been a while since Ithaca has had service added. It is great to see that we were able to turn this around,” Baum said.
He added, “This has turned into an interesting partnership. Hopefully the partnership will continue.”
Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun News Editor