EDITORIAL: Convention biz needs quick solution to flight woes

October 27, 2012

Hoosier technology entrepreneurs have fretted for decades about the shortage of direct flights to technology hotbeds. They say the transportation hurdles frustrate their efforts to land venture capital, thereby holding back the growth of budding tech firms in the region.

It’s a serious problem, we believe, albeit one that’s difficult to fix. So, like most difficult problems, nothing happens. As the years roll by, and the airline industry retrenches in a quest for financial health, the flight woes only get worse.

But last week’s IBJ reported on an entirely different consequence of the direct-flight problem that should—must—break us out of our stupor and get something done.

The story highlighted growing frustration among conventioneers about the difficulty of flying into and out of Indianapolis.

It noted that attendance at the huge CEDIA electronics trade show last month was down sharply from what it had been in Atlanta and Denver—cities with far better air access.

“I have complained massively about this,” said Jerry Del Colliano, publisher of Los Angeles-based Hometheaterreview.com, who attended the Indianapolis show. “Air access to Indianapolis is absolutely awful.”

Those are chilling words for Indianapolis, which has built the resurgence of its downtown on the booming convention industry. If meeting planners begin crossing the city off their list of prospective meeting sites because of you-can’t-get-there-from-here concerns, the consequences could be dire.

Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops doesn’t sugarcoat the problem. “As we’ve grown, it’s opened us up to a larger pool of convention business,” he said. “But that pool increasingly prefers better air lift than Indianapolis currently has.”

We see encouraging signs that city leaders are mobilizing to address the problem. Those include the recent appointment of Deputy Mayor Michael Huber as the Indianapolis Airport Authority’s senior director for commercial enterprise. He lists attracting flights among his top priorities.

The authority’s air service director, Chris Matney, also grasps the urgency. “When the economy improves, route expansion could happen relatively quickly,” he told IBJ. “If we don’t have a plan in place to attract some of that expansion at our airport, we could miss out.”

Whatever city and airport officials come up with must be creative. And it must not be built upon dangling rich incentive packages to airlines in return for flights—an approach some cities in our predicament have taken.

While we don’t have the answers, we do know the business community must play a big part in finding them. Airlines aren’t going to roll out new routes to serve once-a-year conventions. They need a steady flow of business travelers to keep their planes filled.

The challenges are daunting. But if Indianapolis overcomes them, the payoff will be enormous—a more vibrant business community and a convention industry poised for another wave of expansion.•


To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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