PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

May 6, 2013

Brooks airport falls short

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

NEDERLAND — After nearly three months of operation, Jack Brooks Regional Airport has so far failed to meet its monthly minimum revenue guarantee.

The airport was $143,819 below par for the month of February. That amount, along with a shortfall of $174,324 for the month of March, will be paid to American Airlines. A total of 2,552 passengers flew in and out of Jack Brooks during February, and 6,153 during March.

“We need customers, is what this is all about,” said Jim Rich, president of the Southeast Texas Coalition for Air Service, at a meeting at the Beaumont Club, 590 Orleans Street, Beaumont, on Monday, May 6.

Since the airport began operation on Feb. 14, 19 flights have been cancelled. Of that number, seven were weather-related, six were due to mechanical issues, and another seven were the result of air traffic control issues at Dallas-Fort Worth, Jack Brooks’ connecting airport. This equates to 3.8 percent of all flights.

“That is unacceptable at American Airlines,” Rich said. “They have taken three or four corrective actions. The goal is no more than 2 percent.”

Attracting passengers from driving to Houston for air service has also been a challenge, Rich said. Other than a short-lived service with Delta Airlines in 2004, Southeast Texas residents have had no other choice but to drive to Houston since 2001.

“When we started this thing, we said people are going to be motivated to fly out of our airport based on price, reliability of the service, and schedule,” Rich said. “Those are still the three factors that we think we need to work on.”

In spite of this, Rich said, the revenue guarantee should be viewed in the context of the economic impact the airport has had on Jefferson County. He added that when service began in February, 9 percent of all bookings were made in advance. Now, that number has jumped to 55 percent.

“Had we not had passenger service, the county would lose $1 million a year,” Rich said. “We have a two-year committment from American. That’s $2 million we wouldn’t get if we didn’t have passenger travel. In addition, we get $4.50 per ticket for a passenger facility charge. It’s a fee on your ticket that helps the local government meet the match for federal funding.”

“Don’t forget the $1.7 million that Jefferson County residents are going to keep in their pockets as a result of not paying that amount in parking in Houston,” added Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.

Airport director Alex Rupp said that Jack Brooks Regional Airport has already saved patrons approximately $250,000 in parking fees. He also said the airport is planning to enter the second phase of advertising, as well as increase promotional efforts.

Airport Coalition board member Gail Shook said that feedback from passengers has thus far been positive.

“Passengers love the service — parking’s easy, security’s easy,” she said. “All they’re doing is bragging, bragging, bragging. We just need to get more of them.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA