That did not stop many airlines from charging roughly the same amount and pocketing the difference. They followed the lead of Southwest Airlines, the major carrier locally, in keeping ticket prices the same, or in some cases increasing the price of their tickets above the previous level.
“Do I think it was wise for them [to keep rates high] at this particular time. No,” explained New Orleans Aviation Board member David Campbell in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly. As one of the men who oversee Louis Armstrong International Airport, Campbell warned, “In the long run, it could be bad,” undermining confidence in the airline industry.
Yet, Campbell also added, despite calls from some like US Senator John McCain for the airlines to reverse course, and lower prices, he also understands the carriers’ perspective. “That was a business decision that they made. It’s all about bottom line. The airline business is a tough racket to make money in. There are only a few businesses that make money. Southwest is an example,” and even the low budget airline is struggling in this recession.
However, the ending of the tax could have potentially a detrimental impact of Louis Armstrong Airport. “We in the midst of 400 projects to get done before the Superbowl in 2013. This could affect these projects,” he said.
Thanks to the end of the fees, “The FAA has furloughed 4000 employees,” Campbell continued, explaining that the break in funding endangers the completion of 13 major construction efforts that are supposed to be finished prior to the Superbowl.
“Some of the main projects are, we are just finishing up a $5 million bathroom project…Believe it or not, bathrooms are the number one thing they [travelers] look for. We are doing a terminal refurbishment, and it’s going to look fresher.”
Other projects include a $75 million for rental car pavilion where “you can walk right off the terminal and get your car”, “a beautification project on the interstate, all the way to Power” Blvd, and the expansion of concourse C, “adding some new gates”.
That last project funded by the FAA funds is part of long term project where the airport is going ”to end up closing Concourses A and B. All traffic will go to where Concourse C and D in the future.”
That end of the airport will be the nucleus of an expanded carrying capacity at Louis Armstrong International. It is an acknowledgement, the Aviation Board member explained, that the New Orleans Airport is growing, unlike similar sized terminals. “We are up about 8% over pre-Katrina levels over year to date.”
“New Orleans has been bucking the trend,” he revealed. Some of it is due to tourists that have chosen a domestic destination for financial reasons brought on by the Great Recession, he admitted, but also added, “Some of our business travel has started to come back as well.”
Moreover the future looks even brighter, said Campbell. “Our tourism is up a bit…[and] the Superbowl is going to be a great thing.”
The airlines have acknowledged the increased traveler interest. “Southwest has been really good about bringing new routes in.” While the airport has lost one of its two daily fights to Montreal Canada, it has made a major effort, according to Campbell, “to reopen the New Orleans to Latin America travel.”
“New Orleans is more strategically located,” to be the hub for travel to Central and South America. “We are closer than Miami or Dallas. At one time, we had command of that market, and for many, many reasons, we lost it. Now we are trying to get it back.”
The real opportunity, in Campbell’s view, is the end of the Cuba Embargo, with the Communist Island once more becoming a tourist destination--and New Orleans serving as its gateway once more. “We’ve filed in Washington to be one of the approved cities. There are only four cities that will have flights when they are authorized. It looks like sooner or later, it will happen. Initially, it will be charter flights [going to Cuba], but we’re hoping to open airline routes as soon as possible.”
Christopher Tidmore is on the radio weekdays from 7-8 AM on 1560 AM, online at www.gtmorning.com
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