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OKC picks up marketing tab for some nonstop flights

OKC picks up marketing tab for some nonstop flights

Kayla Branch

A passenger jet takes off in June 2016 from Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES PHOTO]

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When American Airlines launched its first nonstop flight to Philadelphia from Oklahoma City earlier this month, Will Rogers World Airport kicked in $150,000 in free marketing.

The city-owned airport also waived a year’s worth of landing fees for the flight.

In the past five years, the airport has provided about $1.2 million in incentives, including $925,000 worth of free marketing and another $300,000 in landing fees and departure gate rental credits, to airlines providing nonstop flights to new destinations.

“The airport recognizes that air service is really important not only to the airport, but to the community of Oklahoma City,” airport spokeswoman Karen Carney said. “We also recognize that we are in a very competitive environment … . So the incentive programs help get the word out to the community that they have this new service and help it get off the ground, so to speak.”

Providing new nonstop flights on unserved routes can garner an airline up to $75,000 in marketing incentives depending on how many times a week the route is flown. Nonstop flights to destinations targeted by the city can receive double that amount, which is why the Philadelphia route received the higher sum. Airlines also can receive discounts on gate and ticket counter rentals.

Typically, only a small number of routes qualify each year for any kind of incentive, Carney said. But this year, four airlines have introduced nonstop flights to new destinations, receiving about $475,000 in marketing incentives, as well as discounted landing fees based on passenger traffic. One of the airlines, Via Air, received an additional $75,000 because it was a new carrier at the airport.

The airport, operated by the Oklahoma City Airport Trust, took in more than $67 million in revenue in 2017, the majority from landing fees, parking lot receipts and rental and concession income, according to an annual financial report.

Money the airport trust spends on incentives comes from revenue received from advertising placed in and around the airport, Carney said.

The marketing money doesn’t go directly to the airline, but instead goes to Oklahoma City-based marketing firm Ackerman McQueen, which buys advertising and plans promotional events, among other things, said Cynthia Reid, vice president of marketing and communications for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

The existing relationship between the Chamber and Ackerman McQueen keeps down expenses by limiting overhead, allowing more money to be spent on marketing, Reid said. The chamber also lobbies airlines for new routes and helps with airport marketing.

The chamber receives no money for its work on the incentive program, Reid said.

While the incentive program is a bonus for airlines that charter new flights out of Oklahoma City, it is not a decision swayer, said Victoria Lupica, a spokeswoman for American Airlines.

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“Incentive agreements are not the driver for adding new service. Airports may have different reasons for offering incentives and to what scope and degree,” Lupica said. “We fly where people want to go or fly from, and, I believe, that we don’t consider the incentive as much as the population that wants to travel and our ability to get them safely to point to point and connectivity.”

Carney, the airport spokeswoman, agreed, saying the growing number of flights is a product of the growing community.

“I think these announcements have a lot to do with how well Oklahoma City is doing as a whole,” Carney said. “The airlines look at the communities, and I talk about new businesses that are starting, the convention center, MAPS construction. … I think that was part of our story this year, as well as airlines over the last couple years having expanded their fleets and capacities and we were able to benefit from that.”

It takes businesses and a traveling community to attract air service, Reid said, but it also takes air service to attract potential businesses. When Amazon announced it was looking to build a second headquarters, the company’s request for information to cities made it clear that air service would play a huge role in the decision.

With new services and a terminal expansion in the works, Oklahoma City is on its way to being a noteworthy airport, Carney said. And as the Oklahoma City area benefits economically from new flights, she said it is vital that the routes are actually used.

“One of the things we always try to remind people is that it takes a long time to develop relationships with the airlines and to make cases for the routes you hope to get so that when we do get them, it’s really important for the community to utilize them,” Carney said. “If you’ve got a healthy airport and air service, we’ll have that economic growth.”

The airport is still looking to fill routes to LaGuardia Airport in New York City and a nonstop flight into Miami, Florida, Carney said.

In November, the airport will spend roughly $150,000 to promote a new Southwest Airlines flight to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

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Kayla Branch is an intern for The Oklahoman’s DIG Team this summer. Kayla moved to Norman in 2015 to study journalism at the University of Oklahoma. She spent two years working in various roles for… Read more ›

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