Chamber noncommittal on Portune's airport idea
Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Economic Development Doug Moormann Monday urged a “cautious” approach to discussions about restructuring the board that governs the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport.
Commission President Todd Portune has proposed the board be reconfigured in a way that gives Cincinnati and Hamilton County more of a say in the management of the airport.
Moormann said perhaps some “refinements” can be made, but stopped short of endorsing or rejecting Portune’s idea.
“We need to be a little bit cautious in how we approach the board because everyone is concerned about the future and we need to have a unified front to maintain a maximum level of service,” said Moormann.
Moormann’s comments came after a staff meeting Monday of the Hamilton County Commissioners during which Portune discussed his proposal with Moormann and others.
The issue arises as talks of a potential merger between Delta Air Lines and another airline heat up and worries swirl about whether the region will lose its hub.
Portune and other local elected officials hope to use the opportunity to change the way the airport operates. Portune believes the airport currently is managed to serve Delta’s interests, rather than the region’s. That’s part of the reason the merger or potential loss of the Delta hub is causing such panic, he said.
“We need to plan for the future of the airport irregardless of whether Delta merges or not,” said Portune.
Hamilton County’s representative on the Kenton County Airport Board, Jim Miceli, has no voting rights on the board. He is, however, involved in committees, the recommendations of which are almost always accepted by the board, Miceli said.
It's unclear how much impact, if any, these discussions will have.
County commissioners actually have no power to change the structure of the airport board. They can only gather political support for the effort.
The board’s structure is governed by the Kentucky legislature. Portune and county Auditor Dusty Rhodes are asking the Ohio governor and legislators to talk to their counterparts in Kentucky about the issue.
Portune and Rhodes also revived a 2006 proposal to provide luxury charter shuttles to other lower-fare airlines within a 200-mile radius in order to put pressure on Delta to lower its fares.
Portune says the airport’s higher-than average ticket prices hurt small businesses and prompt some travelers to drive to other airports for cheaper flights. He blamed this on the airport management too.
“The airfare is symptom of a larger problem: the airport management structure,” Portune said. “We have to make that structure a priority.”
Monday he asked Moorman, who handles airport issues for the chamber of commerce, to broach the restructuring idea with the chamber. He also sought the opinion of Sandy Fidell, the county’s airport consultant, and Miceli, both of whom joined the meeting via telephone.
Rhodes said creating a Delta hub at CVG was a bad idea from the start.
“The airport board 20 years ago made a bad decision,” he said. "That has resulted in higher fares and now we’re going to be hit again when the airport hub pull out.”
Moorman, though concerned about the high prices, noted the Delta hub has had some benefits including increasing foreign investment in the area because of its international service and non-stop flights to other countries.
To that, Rhodes responded that Delta “gets a lot of credit they don’t deserve.”
Fidel had some interesting facts to add to the dicussion:
He said ticket prices at CVG average $100 to $200 higher than other airports which, over the years, has sucked $15 billion to $30 billion from regional economy.
He said Delta’s monopoly on the airport can spell trouble for the local economy and local travelers if Delta’s interests don’t coincide with Greater Cincinnati’s interests, he said.
“The airport board answers to Delta before it answers to any other interest,” said Fidel. “The airport is being run for the benefit of one commercial enterprise. To the extent those interests coincide with the region, that’s well and good. To the extent that it coincides with it (the hub) being a cash cow” it may not be good, he said.
Fidel also noted the airport had to add more runways to support the Delta hub and that Delta uses “predatory pricing to make sure no effective competition occurs,” he said.
As for the shuttle service, Fidel said the idea has worked well in other areas and could encourage competition in Cincinnati.
Portune said the county shouldn’t run the service, but suggested it do some research and development on the issue.
Commissioner Pat DeWine agreed the airport board should be restructured. But he disagreed that the county should get involved with the shuttle service, even in a research role.
“I don’t see that the role of county government, he said. “That should be done by the private sector. If there’s a market for it someone should go out and do it.”