Airport to hype Paris flights with $600,000 in ads

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The Allegheny County Airport Authority will spend $600,000 over the next two years to give Delta's new Pittsburgh to Paris nonstop flight a successful takeoff.

Authority board members unanimously approved the spending yesterday to help promote the flight. The advertising help will be in addition to up to $9 million in potential subsidies the airlines could receive if revenues from the service fall short of agreed-to targets.

Although it is not unusual for the authority to provide marketing help to airlines who initiate new service or routes from Pittsburgh, the spending for the Delta flights will be unlike any of the others.

Typically, the airlines spend their own money to promote the flights and are reimbursed by the authority through a commensurate reduction in landing fees.

But in this case, for the first time, it will be the authority spending the money to promote the flights, in consultation with Delta. There will be no reduction in landing fees because those fees have been waived as part of the incentives offered to Delta to start the service.

The region has been without nonstop trans-Atlantic flights since November 2004, when US Airways dropped service to London and Frankfurt as it drastically scaled back its Pittsburgh operations.

"It's imperative that this be a successful route," authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. "Our program is going to be designed to get seats booked on this flight so it has a successful launch."

Money will be spent on outdoor, radio, print and online advertising. There also will be spending for meetings with marketers, business travelers, and travel planners to push the European service. The authority also will be doing marketing in the Youngstown area to try to lure travelers to Pittsburgh rather than Ohio airports.

The campaign will start in January, but a lot of the advertising will take place in spring in advance of the flight's June 3 start and in late summer, near the end of the peak travel season.

"We have a lot of confidence that there's going to be a strong demand for this flight. But we also know you have to get the word out," Ms. Jenny said.

As part of the agreement with Delta, the state and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development have pledged up to $9 million in potential subsidies -- $2.5 million each the first year and $2 million each the second -- if revenues from the flight fall short of undisclosed revenue targets.

The airline has the right to drop the service after two years if those projections are not met. Given that, it's important for the flights to get off to a strong start, Ms. Jenny said.

"It's a two-year commitment the airport and the Allegheny Conference has, but frankly, if it's not successful in the first year, no one is going to wait around two years," she said.

As part of the region's effort to make the service fly, the Allegheny Conference has secured commitments from nearly 100 of the region's largest businesses to use the flight.

Susan Elliott, a Delta spokeswoman, said the airline believes the promotional campaign "is important for [the flight's] success." She did not know if Delta was spending any of its own money to promote the flight.

The latest spending comes amid more ominous news for Pittsburgh International Airport, which has seen passenger traffic drop by more than 50 percent over the last seven years because of cutbacks by US Airways.

Traffic was down 16.6 percent in November compared to the same month in 2007, with all but two airlines reporting decreases.

Authority Executive Director Bradley D. Penrod attributed the decline to worsening economic conditions nationwide, saying business and leisure travel have been "severely affected" by the downturn.

However, he expressed confidence that the airport will be able to weather the storm. He said he is not aware of any significant cuts planned in Pittsburgh by the airlines to start 2009. Load factors consistently have been at 80 percent or more. And with so many reductions in the past, there's not a whole lot more to cut, he noted.

In addition, Standard & Poor's this week affirmed the authority's BBB+ rating with a stable outlook, citing increased local traffic resulting from entry of low-fare carriers Southwest Airlines and JetBlue into the market. It is expecting local traffic to remain stable in the future.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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