Thursday, April 26, 2012

JetBlue considering Worcester Regional Airport, among others

WORCESTER —  JetBlue Airways Corp. is looking at Worcester Regional Airport.

Dave Barger, president and chief executive officer of the low-cost airline, visited the Worcester airport earlier this month, Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman Richard Walsh said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Barger said on his Twitter account Tuesday: “As for ORH (the federal designation for Worcester Airport), had a very nice visit with Massport 10 days ago. More soon!”

Mr. Barger and other JetBlue executives were at the airport April 13.

“We're definitely looking at it, but we're not ready to announce anything,” said Mateo Lleras, a spokesman for JetBlue, which has a major regional hub at Boston's Logan International Airport.

Mr. Barger's tweet was in response to a tweet from Worcester businessman Bill Randell, who closely follows the airport on his Worcester Blog. Mr. Randell congratulated Mr. Barger on JetBlue's 10-year anniversary of trading on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

The Worcester airport, which MassPort purchased in 2010, suffered the departure of its only commercial carrier, Direct Air, last month.

Direct Air has since filed for bankruptcy, leaving numerous creditors, including passengers who had bought tickets and vouchers.

City and Massport officials have been trying to woo new airlines to the airport in the wake of Direct Air's departure.

JetBlue has previously expressed interest in coming to Worcester, but the airline executives' recent visit is the first development since Mr. Barger said after a September speech at Boston College that Massport had “put Worcester on our radar screen.”

Mr. Barger, however, noted that expanding to Providence was a higher priority and suggested that the Worcester airport, located on a plateau atop a hill near the Paxton border, presents technical challenges because the location is often foggy, The Boston Globe reported at the time.

MassPort will conduct its regular monthly meeting at Worcester Regional Airport tomorrow morning.

Mr. Lleras, the JetBlue spokesman, confirmed that JetBlue is interested in the airport, but said it is only one of many the carrier is considering at any given time, and that the airport selection process is complex and takes from six months to three years.

“We're looking at many airports as well as your airport,” he said.

Mr. Lleras also noted that Mr. Barger, the JetBlue president and CEO, is an enthusiastic corporate leader known for visiting many potential locations.

“Dave's around a lot. He travels a lot. He's on the ground a lot,” Mr. Lleras said. “He gets excited. He wants us to fly everywhere.”

Mr. Barger's Twitter commentary and visit have left some local officials optimistic about the future of an airport that has had many losses of commercial airline service over the years and whose spotty record has led some critics to call for shutting it down.

“We've been building toward a big-time airline for a long time,” said Councilor-at-Large Frederick C. Rushton, chairman of the council's Economic Development committee. “Population growth, our centralized location and the near capacity of Logan has pointed toward an interest like this, like JetBlue.”

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