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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Passengers check in at the United Express counter at Fort Wayne International Airport in January.

Friday, June 10, 2016 10:15 am

Fort Wayne to Philly finished

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

There will be no more flights to Philadelphia from Fort Wayne International Airport by the end of the summer. 

Flights to the City of Brotherly Love will end Aug. 23 because passenger loads were not large enough to sustain the American Airlines service, which started in October 2014.

The existing twice-daily flights to Charlotte, North Carolina, which American Airlines started about the same time as the Philadelphia flights, are expected to continue.

"We collaborated with the city, county and our economic development agencies … to craft an incentive to win the service based on facts and a belief that a new route would be supported," Executive Director of Airports Scott Hinderman said in a May 23 letter to local officials.

"Unfortunately, the market did not support the Philadelphia (PHL) service that was needed to sustain it into the future."

To be able to offer nonstop flights to Philadelphia, the City Council in 2014 gave the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority $600,000 – half from the city’s Legacy Fund and half from the local economic development income tax – as part of a minimum revenue guarantee to ensure that American Airlines would not lose money if the route proved unsuccessful.

In addition to the $600,000 from the city, the airport authority also received $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, $500,000 from Greater Fort Wayne Inc./Airport Authority, $150,000 from Allen County, $100,000 from the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and $50,000 from the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership for a total pot of $2 million. 

About $1.08 million of those funds have been spent, Lauren Zuber, air service and marketing manager for the airport authority, said Thursday. The remaining $920,000 is still in the hands of the various taxing bodies that pledged funds. 

"No funds have been received from partners other than what was already spent," Zuber said. 

Additionally, Zuber said there are no plans to cancel service to any other airport.

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was the only city councilman who voted against the appropriation two years ago. Although he said it was impossible to predict what would happen, the eventual outcome was as he’d feared.

"It was a poor use of Legacy funds when it was proposed, it is even worse with hindsight," Jehl said Thursday. 

Jehl added that he continues to dislike giving public money to private entities. Additionally, Jehl said he was equally hesitant to support the measure two years ago because it involved a co-equal branch of government that appeared to have better finances than those of the city. 

About $80,000 of the county’s contribution was spent, Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said. The county is unlikely to see any of those funds returned. It was unclear Thursday how much of the city’s contribution was spent.

Despite the loss of service to Philadelphia, Hinderman in his letter said he thinks the airport came out ahead in the end, citing a 10.8 percent increase in passenger traffic over 2015 and the addition of an additional daily flight to Charlotte. Additionally, Hinderman said United Airlines will begin a daily nonstop flight from Fort Wayne to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Sept. 7. The airport is constantly looking for ways to expand service to additional airports, Zuber said. 

Peters agreed and said he doesn’t think the investment was a total loss.

"It’s not a total bust. We, the county, will likely not see the $80,000 back that we anted up, but it did pay for two flights to Charlotte, and the realization that a flight to Newark is not a bad thing," he said.