Philadelphia Airport, A Trans-Atlantic Hub With No Trans-Atlantic Flights, Will Offer Incentives To Airlines

Aircraft sit at gates at Philadelphia International Airport.

Philadelphia International Airport

Philadelphia International Airport, a preeminent trans-Atlantic hub that for the moment has not a single trans-Atlantic passenger flight, says it has launched an incentive program intended to help it reclaim traffic lost to the coronavirus crisis. The airport said it would waive airport fees and provide outdoor advertising for both passenger and cargo airlines that add flights. On the passenger side, the incentives could be several thousand dollars per flight in waivers of charges including federal inspection fees, deplaning fees and landing fees, which depend on aircraft weight.  Plan expense is capped at £6 million.

"The idea was for us to be one of the first airports in the U.S. to have an incentive plan to help with the recovery," said Stephanie Wear, the airport's director of air service development and cargo services. "Because of this unprecedented situation, we need to help our airline partners get back to 2019, a record-breaking year for Philadelphia airport, and we'd like to get back as quickly as we can," she said. The Philadelphia airport program has an abbreviation, CASRIP, which stands for Covid-19 Air Service Recovery and Incentive Program.

Airport passenger traffic fell 79% from a year earlier in May, and is down 80% to 85% in June. "In March, we went from 22 (daily trans-Atlantic flights) to zero due to the ban" on European travel announced Marcy 11 by President Trump, Wear said. However, cargo traffic at Philadelphia is relatively strong, as many passenger airlines are operating cargo-only flights. As the second biggest East Coast hub for United Parcel Service UPS , Philadelphia already had a substantial cargo business.

PHL cargo business was up 13% through March. Philadelphia's recovery is hampered because, despite its status as American AAL Airlines' primary trans-Atlantic hub, it is not included on a list of 13 airports designated in March to accept returning international travelers. The Trump administration "is requiring all Americans returning from affected areas in Europe to be funneled through 13 airports for screening upon their return to the U.S.," the Department of Homeland Security said at the time.

Except for Miami International, the third largest U.S. gateway after JFK and LAX, the airports all had Asia routes, which in March already required inspection of returning passengers by the Centers for Disease Control. The list includes East Coast and Southeast airports in Atlanta, Boston, Dulles and Newark as well as JFK. Charlotte and Philadelphia, both American hubs, were left out even though Philadelphia is the ninth busiest trans-Atlantic destination.

Designation as a "funneling airport" is "something the airport is fighting for," Wear said. Asked why the effort has so far failed, she said, "I wish I had an answer to that. It's difficult to understand."

American spokesman Andrew Trull said, "It was a federal decision made in March as the presidential proclamation and security directives were issued. Under those current federal orders, carriers can't operate commercial flights from Europe to non-funnel airports. "There is a coordinated effort from airlines, the airport, our unions, trade groups and local / state officials to advocate for the addition of Philadelphia as a funnel airport for flights from the U.K. and Schengen countries," Trull said.

The Schengen area includes 26 continental European countries. If Philadelphia and Charlotte are not added to the list, it seems unlikely that American can offer planned trans-Atlantic service from the two cities in August. Nevertheless, American has plans to grow in Philadelphia in July.

The carrier has said that PHL will have 237 daily peak departures in July, which is 57% of the 419 daily departures it had a year earlier.  American will take incentives into account as it decides when to restore flights. "American expects to consider these incentives alongside several other factors as we look to relaunch service and refine our global network," Trull said. "American is eligible to receive incentives for qualifying domestic and international routes unserved as of January 1, 2020."

Incentives are offered in three areas. One is for daily year-round service on international routes that were unserved after Jan.

1. For Athens, Barcelona, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Prague, Reykjavik, Shannon and Venice, which had all been in American's summer plans, the airport is offering 50% waivers.

For most other international markets, the airport is offering 100% waivers. For new domestic service to West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii markets that were unserved after Jan.

1, the airport is offering 100% waivers for the first 12 months of service. The same waivers are also offered to new entrant carriers serving any domestic route.

For cargo service, 100% twelve-month waivers are offered to carriers offering new routes and to carriers that boost total monthly landed weight by at least 5%. Weir said all of the airport's carriers "are appreciative" of the incentives. "Several say they will start back in a few months," she said. "It helps mitigate the risk in the upcoming months.

It's a symbiotic relationship: We need the airlines and they need us. This is a gesture that we're in this together and we can help our partners in a responsible way so we can all start growing again." Besides American, trans-Atlantic carriers at PHL include Aer Lingus, Iceland Air, Lufthansa, British Airways and Qatar Airways.

As for cargo, American and British Airways are flying cargo between Europe and Philadelphia, and the Portuguese charter operator Hi Fly recently operated a cargo flight between Philadelphia and China.

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