Thursday, February 16, 2017

Palm Beach International Airport (KPBI) wants more international flights

Palm Beach International Airport wants to offer more flights abroad, seeking to open new routes to Europe for travelers looking to avoid the crowds at busier South Florida terminals. 

Palm Beach International’s only flights abroad are to Canada and the Bahamas. 

Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams said people want more options. Travelers can use nearby airports in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, but they must also deal with the traffic and lines that come with those terminals, he said. 

“It is inconvenient if your final destination is Palm Beach County,” Abrams said. “We want them to land here.” 

The airport comprises a minuscule slice of international travel in South Florida with only 154,500 international passengers in 2016.  Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country for international travel, had 21 million international passengers. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport recorded 6 million international passengers. 

Palm Beach County’s marketers have met with airlines in Europe about launching new routes to West Palm Beach, according to a report reviewed by county commissioners. Lacy Larson, a spokeswoman for Palm Beach International, declined to say which routes the airport is hoping to launch.

But those efforts have been grounded because U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers end their shifts at 4 p.m., county officials say.

Expanding international service will be “difficult if not impossible” if customs won’t operate later than 4 p.m., according to the report presented by county lobbyists. 

The limited coverage at Palm Beach International is because only a few international flights land there, said Rachel Torres, a Florida-based spokeswoman for U.S. Customs. The airport could apply for a program in which local government or businesses reimburse the agency for extended hours, she said. 

Larson said the airport is working with its Congressional representatives to expand the hours of customs. 

Competing airports have been aggressive in launching new routes. Last year, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport started nonstop service to Dubai, which airport officials say will generate a regional economic impact of $100 million per year. International traffic there nearly doubled from 2010 to 2016.

The new routes can be lucrative for both airlines and airports, said Dawna Rhoades, professor of international aviation management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

International travelers are more likely to upgrade to first-class and pay extra for amenities, a key source of revenue for airlines, she said. Airports make money on everything from landing fees to increased business at terminal restaurants and bars. 

Palm Beach International is underutilized, said Joe Rooney, acting president and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach Council. He said he doesn’t mind if he has to pay more to fly out of West Palm Beach.

“If you can get a flight, it is absolutely preferred," he said. 


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