Airport fast-tracking efforts to land transatlantic flight

The Indianapolis International Airport is fast-tracking its efforts to land a transatlantic flight to a destination such as London or Paris, and it’s hiring the Indy Chamber to help.

Over the next 12 months, the airport will pay the chamber up to $180,000 to perform tasks related to two areas: air service development and land development. The airport’s governing body, the Indianapolis Airport Authority, approved the contract on Friday.

Working to secure a transatlantic flight will be a top priority, said Marsha Stone, the airport’s senior director of commercial enterprise.

“London is at the top of the list, but it could be Paris or Frankfurt or Amsterdam,” Stone told IBJ.

The airport currently lacks direct flights to Europe, and it had already identified transatlantic service—specifically, service to London—as a top priority. 

That goal got a boost with the recent passage of the Indiana state budget, which includes a new $15 million economic development fund. One of the ways the Indiana Economic Development Corp. can use that money is to help attract new direct flights.

Because that money is now available, Stone said, the airport is accelerating its efforts to secure transatlantic service.

“We want to make sure we’re out there and ready to get those dollars,” Stone said. “I’ve got to have data to get in front of these airlines."

The airport and the chamber have worked together before on an informal basis. The chamber gathers data on air travel demand by local companies, and it then shares this information with the airport.

Having a formal agreement with the chamber will allow the airport to make specific and time-sensitive requests for this work.

“It puts us in a position where we can really focus our efforts,” said Ian Nicolini, vice president of Indianapolis economic development at the Indy Chamber.

According to the agreement, the chamber will provide market research and data to the airport on corporate air travel demand. As part of this, the chamber will organize quarterly roundtable meetings between regional business leaders and airport representatives. It will also participate in conversations with airlines and airline consultants.

“It is critical to message to the airlines the strength and direction of the Indianapolis metro economy,” the agreement says.

Also as part of the agreement, the chamber will help the airport in its ongoing land use and development efforts. These efforts include “targeting and courting potential investors, developers and end users for [airport] Authority property,” the agreement says.

Other activities will include assistance with permitting, incentives, retention and expansion for parties interested in doing business with the airport.
The chamber will bill the airport monthly for hours worked, with total reimbursement not to exceed $180,000 over a 12-month period.

The arrangement could be extended past 12 months if the airport sees a need to do so, Stone said.

In unrelated business during Friday’s meeting, the airport authority agreed to form an ad hoc committee that will make some initial decisions on planned airport improvements.

The existing terminal will be 10 years old next year, and over the past several months airport leaders have been mulling what improvements and updates the facility now needs.

Earlier this year, consultants shared their initial vision of possible upgrades. Those ideas included everything from new seating and signs to adding artificial grass and wooden accents for a more natural look. The consultants also pitched removing some gate-area moving walkways and completing a dramatic reconfiguration of Civic Plaza, the circular space between ticketing and security. 

It’s early in the process and there’s no word yet on how much the airport might have available to spend. But at this point, board members don’t seem interested in dramatic changes to the facility, which is marked by glass, steel and plenty of open space.

“I think we all agree that the airport needs to be updated as needed to keep it fresh,” Board President Barbara Glass said. “But I think that no one really wants to change the essence of the airport.”

One of the first things the airport plans to do is update its signage, Glass said. One of the first tasks before the committee will be to decide on some broad guidelines so signs will fit in visually with whatever upgrades the airport decides to pursue. 

The board plans to form this committee within the next month. 

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