Deal Reached on Transfer of Worcester Regional Airport to Massport

Christopher Willenborg, (pictured) provided the following press release from the Massachusetts Port Authority. Mr. Willenborg is the Adminstrator for the Massachusetts Aeronautics Division.

As part of the Patrick-Murray Administrations historic transportation reform efforts to simplify the state’s transportation system, the Massachusetts Port Authority and the City of Worcester today signed an agreement on the transfer of Worcester Regional Airport.  The transfer is mandated as part of the landmark transportation reform law approved by Governor Deval Patrick and the state legislature in 2009.

Under the agreement, Massport will pay Worcester more than $15 million which represents the capital and operating costs the city expended at the airport for the last seven years, the unamortized debt service that remains on the airport terminal, and the present value of the future retirement and health care benefits for Airport retirees and active vested airport employees.  Massport will assume all on-going operating and capital costs at the airport, budgeted at nearly

$5 million for fiscal year 2011.  The complex transaction was approved by the Worcester City Council on June 1, 2010 and has received tentative approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The Massport Board approved the transaction on Thursday June 17, 2010.

"This is an important cornerstone in Transportation Reform that will benefit the Worcester region and all of Massachusetts," said Governor Patrick. "Massport knows how to run airports and as the owner operator it will work to bring new service to the airport and the two million residents who live closer to Worcester Regional Airport than any other airport.  The city, in turn, can focus on providing more traditional municipal services."

"The Worcester Regional Airport is a critical service that supports the economic and community needs in the central region of the state," said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray.  "As part of our Administration’s transportation reform plan, we look forward to Massport owning and operating the airport, which will lead to additional flights for travelers, more access for corporate use, and increased economic development in the region."

"Worcester Regional Airport is a strategic asset and a potential economic engine for Central Massachusetts,” said Thomas J. Kinton Jr., CEO and Executive Director of Massport. "No one is building new airports in the region and runways are valuable assets that must be maintained for the economic health of the region. Massport and the FAA view the airport as an important element in the long term for providing New Englanders access to the national airspace system. By giving passengers multiple choices for getting where they want to go in a timely, hassle-free and cost-effective fashion, New England’s regional airport system successfully relieves the pressure on Logan and achieves the desired slowdown in its overall growth.”

"The completion of this transfer marks yet another step on the road toward implementation of the Governor’s historic transportation reform vision," said MassDOT Secretary & CEO Jeffrey Mullan, who serves as a member of the Massport Board. "I thank Massport, the City of Worcester and the FAA for the cooperative manner in which the transaction was put together and look forward to working with them all as a part of our ongoing efforts to invest strategically in the whole Commonwealth."

Since the Governor introduced and the legislature passed transportation reform legislation in 2009, Massport and Worcester have been engaged in negotiations on how to transfer the 1300 acre airport.  The FAA has been closely involved in the discussions.  The FAA does not allow proceeds from the transfer of an airport that received federal funding to be retained by the owner of that airport, but federal law does allow Massport to reimburse Worcester for certain capital and operating expenses.

Under the transaction, the city will retain ownership of the 59.3 acre Worcester Airport Industrial Park and all tax revenues from the park will remain with the city.  In addition, Worcester will keep a 3.7 acre parcel to expand a neighborhood ballfield.

Under the transfer, Massport will own the airport and be responsible for all its operating and capital costs.  Over the last 10 years, Massport has managed the airport for the City of Worcester and paid a portion of the operating costs of the facility, which has two runways, including a 7,000 foot long runway with a precision instrument landing system and a $16 million terminal building with six gates.

Massport worked to bring Direct Air to Worcester, and the South Carolina-based airline has been flying from the airport to Florida and Myrtle Beach for more than 18 months and has seen a steady increase in passenger loads.  Massport will continue to operate the airport for the foreseeable future.  In the short-term, any growth at the airport will most likely be corporate general aviation with targeted niche commercial service as exemplified by Direct Air serving leisure markets.

The agreement calls for the creation of an Airport Advisory Committee, which will have nine representatives from Worcester and central Massachusetts.  Worcester will appoint four members, Massport will appoint three members and the Town of Leicester will appoint two members.

"I am pleased to see Massport joining with the Worcester Regional Airport. The purchase of this airport along with the plans for CSX and rail lines to expand benefits Worcester and its’ surrounding towns, making them primary destinations. Worcester continues to grow, enabling visitors and residents more access to our local communities,"  said Senator Harriette L. Chandler.

"This is a great day for both the airport and the city.  We have seen, in recent years, the potential for commercial flights here at Worcester Regional Airport.  The arrangement being concluded today will place the airport in the hands of an organization equipped with the resources to expand service, help the airport become a convenient local resource, and expand travel options for Worcester County residents.  Under Massport’s stewardship, and with the help of the city, I am hopeful that this airport will reach its full potential," said Sen. Michael O. Moore.

"This is a great day for the city of Worcester and the town of Leicester.  It is my hope that with Massport’s  leadership, Worcester Airport can become the thriving airport that it was years ago," said Representative John J. Binienda.

"The whole notion of Massport becoming the manager of the Worcester Airport will go a long way towards opening up greater economic opportunity here in the City of Worcester. I value Massport’s expertise and effective management as great assets to not only to Central Massachusetts but also to the Commonwealth at large. I greatly appreciate all of the work done by the Patrick Administration and the Legislature to make this transition run as smoothly as possible," said Representative James J. O’Day.

”Given the completion of the 146 Interchange Project, the long awaited expansion of commuter rail service for the Central Mass Area, and the sale of the Airport to the Massachusetts Port Authority, the heart of the Commonwealth will be pumping with these 3 transportation projects,” said Representative Vincent A. Pedone.