Use it or lose it: Paris connection can be more than a flight of fancy

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In its first eight months of operation, the non-stop flight between Pittsburgh and Paris operated by Delta Air Lines experienced some economic turbulence. As with any bumpy ride, anxieties are understandable but there's still hope for a comfortable landing.

When the flight was announced last year, it was hailed as an important boost to the region's international business ambitions. Pittsburgh International Airport had lost its nonstop link to Europe in 2004 but, using financial incentives, public officials joined with business leaders to persuade Delta to start the Paris service last June.

C'est bon? Not yet. The Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a partner in the effort, reported last week a mixed bag of results. Up until Jan. 31, the Paris flight had sold 68 percent of its available seats, within the range of the original forecast, but still 12 to 18 points below the average load on Delta's trans-Atlantic flights.

In large part, the global recession can be blamed. The flight did not meet its revenue target because ticket prices were lowered in response to the crisis. And under the deal with Delta, the conference and the state must put in up to $5 million to offset shortfalls in the first year if goals aren't met ($4 million in the second year).

Still, there's reason to hope. Air traffic trends are heading up and the flight, according to the conference, has established a good customer base. But Pittsburgh travelers need to support the flight more. It's use it or lose it.


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