February 8, 2005

Northwest Airlines Gives Tompkins County Needed Lift

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U.S. Airways will no longer be Ithaca’s only airline: yesterday, Northwest Airlines announced plans to offer two daily non-stop flights out of the Tompkins County Regional Airport.

Members of the Tompkins County Air Service Task Force, joined via teleconference by Tom Bach, Northwest’s vice president for market planning and AirLink, went public with the deal between the county and the airline yesterday at the Tompkins County Regional Airport.

The new flights are the result of months of negotiation between the airline and the Tompkins County Air Service Task Force. According to the deal, Northwest will provide four flights a day: two flights to Detroit and two return flights. Tompkins County legislators and Northwest representatives agreed that if these flights attract enough business and if the local market appears promising, new flights will be considered. As part of the deal, the county has committed itself to a $250,000 revenue guarantee. This means that if the new service fails to achieve its target of $5.3 million in revenue, the county will pay the airline up to $250,000.

In addition, Tompkins County has allocated $50,000 for a local marketing campaign and $40,000 for the necessary airport remodeling that comes along with adding another airline.

The new flights will operate with the airline’s partner, Mesaba Airlines, which will fly the Saab 340 turboprop, which seats 34.

Currently, U.S. Airways is the only air service provider operating out of the Tompkins County Regional Airport. In November, the financially-troubled airline drastically reduced the volume of local flights when it discontinued its service to Pittsburgh. Richard McDaniel, Cornell associate vice president and task force member, said that this lack of travel options forced 68 percent of travelers in the county to fly out of other airports in the region.

According to county legislators, Northwest Airlines and Cornell administrators themselves, the University was particularly active in lobbying to secure another airline in the area. Not only did the University contribute to a $250,000 revenue guarantee for Northwest, but it will foot the bill for an additional $500,000 international travel revenue guarantee.

“Cornell University is excited by this new commuter arrangement with Northwest Airlines, which will expand travel options for the region,” said Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations. “This is a boon to the community because it can lead to further expansion of travel options in the future. We are proud to have been a part of a local partnership of academic institutions and businesses providing revenue guarantees to ensure the success of this endeavor.” McDaniel reiterated Cornell’s enthusiasm for an additional airline. “We think this will be a huge resource to the educational institutions and the business community,” he said.

According to Park Leadership Fellow Charles Hamilton ’04, business, it is too early to estimate the ticket prices. However, he predicts that they will be competitive with prices offered by other providers in the area, including those in Syracuse and Elmira. Tompkins County legislators say this does not mean the end of the county’s relationship with U.S. Airways.

“U.S. Airways is a really good service provider for us,” said Barbara Blanchard (D-district 1). “We want to strengthen our U.S. Airways relationship.”

The new Northwest flights will begin operating on May 2, 2005.

Archived article by Ellen Miller
Sun Senior Writer