Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Lower barriers to new air carriers


Our immediate area took an economic hit from DHL's decision to move most of its freight operations out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Wilmington, Ohio, where DHL owns the airport.

Kentucky officials console themselves that the loss of more than $2 million a year in landing fees and almost 1,300 DHL-controlled jobs should be offset by FedEx Ground's new $65 million trucking hub on Boone County's Mount Zion Road. Kentucky beat Ohio in that competition, but airport officials need to keep upgrading noise controls and reduce barriers that discourage new carriers from locating there.

Some Ohio-side residents are ecstatic over the DHL deal, not so much because Ohio beat Kentucky with an "aggressive" $422.4 million incentive package including a highway bypass, but because once DHL consolidates its hub in Wilmington, people in Delhi Township and other West Side locations are likelier to get a decent night's sleep.

Noise and environmental disputes about airport operations in Boone County did figure in DHL's decision to move all but 300 of its jobs to Wilmington. Not only will most of DHL's noise go away by September 2005, but its consolidation plan calls for expanding to 100 flights a night. Had DHL's hub gone to Boone County, nearby residents would have been getting even less sleep than at present.

Airport officials are regrouping to see how DHL's planned departure might affect noise projection studies already in the works. But other, smaller air freight carriers still fly out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International at night, and some late-night Comair flights have been overlapping with DHL's.

Kentucky officials say they never got a chance to bid for locating DHL's hub in Northern Kentucky. Its fate was probably sealed ever since last spring when DHL, a German subsidiary, bought Airborne Express and its Wilmington airport.

In the past 13 years, 10 low-cost passenger airlines tried to establish service at Delta's hub in Northern Kentucky. None survived. Airport officials need to continue to explore whether DHL's move, the new runway and other changes open up opportunities for attracting other carriers.

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