News Local news Cleve­land Hop­kins offi­cials mak­ing push for non­stop flight to Europe, but route will need finan­cial help

Cleve­land Hop­kins offi­cials mak­ing push for non­stop flight to Europe, but route will need finan­cial help

Cleve­land air­port offi­cials plan to make a major push this year to land non­stop ser­vice to Europe.

The region, they say, has more than enough trav­el­ers to sup­port a new trans-Atlantic flight. What it doesn’t have – at least not yet – is enough finan­cial sup­port from the com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing busi­ness­es and oth­er groups. Oth­er than short-lived ser­vice to Ice­land in 2018, Cleve­landers could last fly non­stop from Hop­kins to Europe in 2009, when ser­vice to Lon­don end­ed, a vic­tim of the Great Recession.

Any new ser­vice between Cleve­land and Europe will like­ly take eco­nom­ic incen­tives to entice an air­line to try an unproven route, accord­ing to John Hogan, deputy chief of mar­ket­ing and air ser­vice devel­op­ment at Cleve­land Hop­kins Inter­na­tion­al Airport.

St. Louis, for exam­ple, recent­ly put togeth­er a $5 mil­lion incen­tive pack­age to con­vince Lufthansa Air­lines to start new ser­vice between St. Louis Lam­bert Inter­na­tion­al Air­port and Frank­furt, Ger­many. The three-times per week ser­vice launch­es in June.

About half of the mon­ey is com­ing from the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty and about half from the St. Louis Coun­ty Port Author­i­ty, an arm of coun­ty gov­ern­ment. With a sim­i­lar incen­tive pack­age, Hogan believes Cleve­land could eas­i­ly land non­stop ser­vice to Europe.

“As I like to say, it takes a vil­lage,” said Hogan. “It will take the com­mu­ni­ty to real­ly jump in there.”

The Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion pro­hibits air­ports from mak­ing direct pay­ments to air­lines in exchange for ser­vice. Instead, air­ports can waive cer­tain fees and help car­ri­ers with mar­ket­ing the new flights.

States, local gov­ern­ments and busi­ness­es, how­ev­er, are able to offer finan­cial assis­tance to car­ri­ers in exchange for new routes. And it’s become an increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar way for com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly mid­sized cities, to land new car­ri­ers and new flights to impor­tant des­ti­na­tions, includ­ing inter­na­tion­al routes.

Last year, Cleve­land Hop­kins announced new non­stop ser­vice to Seat­tle on Alas­ka Air­lines, a new car­ri­er that was drawn to Cleve­land in part because of a finan­cial pack­age put togeth­er by Job­sO­hio, the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment arm of state gov­ern­ment, and the local busi­ness community.

Bai­ju Shah, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Greater Cleve­land Part­ner­ship, said the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty under­stands the impor­tance of robust air ser­vice. But, he added, busi­ness trav­el pat­terns have changed, and are like­ly to change more, due to the pandemic.

“The busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty is still eval­u­at­ing their own trav­el needs going for­ward,” he said. “I don’t have a strong per­spec­tive on how impor­tant a trans-Atlantic flight would be to the busi­ness community.”

Shah said he would want to see an eco­nom­ic impact analy­sis of any pos­si­ble route before com­mit­ting finan­cial sup­port to it. 

“It’s hard for us to go to the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty with­out an eco­nom­ic case,” he said. “There’s got to be a broad­er region­al ben­e­fit and we have to under­stand what that means. It has to be tan­gi­ble. And with that infor­ma­tion, we can make a deci­sion on whether it’s a good choice for our local resources.”

Penn­syl­va­nia sub­si­dized Pitts­burgh to Europe flights

In 2018, when British Air­ways announced it would start fly­ing to Lon­don from Pitts­burgh Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, local offi­cials esti­mat­ed the flight would gen­er­ate $57 mil­lion annu­al­ly in eco­nom­ic impact.

The state of Penn­syl­va­nia helped entice the car­ri­er to Pitts­burgh by offer­ing a $3 mil­lion sub­sidy over two years. The flight, sus­pend­ed dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, is expect­ed to restart in June.

Air­port offi­cials in Ohio believe they have been at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage for years when it comes to attract­ing new air ser­vice. Air­ports in Pitts­burgh and Indi­anapo­lis, for exam­ple, have had inter­na­tion­al ser­vice for years, sub­si­dized – at least ini­tial­ly – by state funds.

That changed in 2020, when Job­sO­hio, the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment arm of the state, devel­oped a pro­gram to help Ohio air­ports attract new service.

So far, that new pro­gram has been used three times – to help per­suade Alas­ka Air­lines to come to Cleve­land, and to entice new car­ri­er Breeze Air­ways to the Akron-Can­ton and Colum­bus airports.

Cleve­land offi­cials hope the next time will be used to attract ser­vice to Europe.

“Our tar­get is to have trans-Atlantic ser­vice in the sum­mer of 2023,” said Air­port Direc­tor Robert Kennedy. “Those deci­sions will be made this year.”

Cleve­land hasn’t had non­stop ser­vice to Europe since 2018, when two car­ri­ers based in Ice­land went head to head at Hop­kins with flights to Reyk­javik. Nei­ther last­ed a year – Wow Air went bank­rupt in 2019 and Icelandair’s ser­vice was dis­rupt­ed by the ground­ing of its Boe­ing 737 Max jets due to safe­ty concerns.

Before 2018, the last time a car­ri­er flew non­stop to Europe from Cleve­land was 2009, when Con­ti­nen­tal Air­lines offered ser­vice to London.

Trans-Atlantic service from Cleveland
Con­ti­nen­tal Air­lines briefly offered non­stop ser­vice between Cleve­land and Paris in 2008; the city cel­e­brat­ed the new ser­vice with a minia­ture Arc de Tri­om­phe at Hop­kins. (Joshua Gunter/ The Plain Dealer)The Plain Dealer

In the years since Con­ti­nen­tal and Unit­ed merged in 2010, and Unit­ed closed its Hop­kins hub in 2014, Cleve­land has lost numer­ous non­stop destinations.

Bill Koehler, CEO of Team NEO, a region­al eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tion, said the com­mu­ni­ty needs to decide what mar­kets are a top pri­or­i­ty, both domes­tic and international.

“We have to build a strat­e­gy around what the pri­or­i­ty mar­kets ought to be,” he said. “We’re going to have to decide how to pri­or­i­tize the mar­kets we choose to go after and how much mon­ey, as a com­mu­ni­ty, we want to set aside for some­thing like that.”

In pre­vi­ous years, Shah said, the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty has had a hard time agree­ing on which Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions were the most important. 

“There wasn’t enough of a con­cen­tra­tion around a sin­gle city to make it obvi­ous,” he said.

Log­i­cal choice: London

Lon­don would be the log­i­cal first choice for a flight, accord­ing to Hogan. In 2019, before the pan­dem­ic, Cleve­land Hop­kins saw 51 pas­sen­gers per day on aver­age head­ed to Lon­don – more than Pitts­burgh, Indi­anapo­lis and Cincin­nati, which have all had non­stop flights to Europe for years.

Any one of sev­er­al Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions or car­ri­ers could be suc­cess­ful, how­ev­er, accord­ing to Hogan. The suc­cess of any flight to Europe from a mid­sized Amer­i­can city relies on pas­sen­gers trans­fer­ring to a sec­ond, final des­ti­na­tion. An air­line that offers lots of con­nec­tions is cru­cial, said Hogan.

Back in 2019, Cleve­land Hop­kins was under seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for a new route to Dublin from Irish car­ri­er Aer Lin­gus. The air­line is owned by Inter­na­tion­al Air­lines Group, which also owns British Air­ways, and serves dozens of des­ti­na­tions in Europe, the Mid­dle East and North America.

The busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty, how­ev­er, was not com­plete­ly sold on the ser­vice. And Aer Lin­gus even­tu­al­ly looked elsewhere.

Air­port offi­cials don’t want that to hap­pen again.

“We need our com­mu­ni­ty to do more,” said Kennedy, who asked that busi­ness­es or com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers reach out to him if they want to help in the effort (he pro­vid­ed his phone num­ber, 216−265−6022, and email address, rkennedy@​clevelandairport.​com).

Any incen­tive pack­age would like­ly not be an out­right sub­sidy, but would be sim­i­lar to what was put togeth­er for Alas­ka Air­lines  a min­i­mum rev­enue guar­an­tee for the first cou­ple years to help a route get established.

“You’re shar­ing the risk,” said Kennedy.

A new flight to Europe is just one of numer­ous des­ti­na­tions being pur­sued by offi­cials at Cleve­land Hopkins.

Hogan pro­vid­ed this list of pri­or­i­ty des­ti­na­tions, cur­rent­ly with­out non­stop ser­vice from Cleve­land: San Diego, Austin, San Anto­nio, Mil­wau­kee, Kansas City, Salt Lake City and Port­land, Oregon.