By Jennifer Sorentrue – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Palm Beach International Airport managers are trying to re-establish a direct flight between West Palm Beach and Los Angeles, while also boosting revenues from non-airport sources in an effort to help drive down fees airlines pay to use the facility.
Two years after American Airlines dropped its non-stop flight between PBIA and Los Angeles International Airport, Palm Beach County Airports Director Bruce Pelly said he was hopeful his staff will find a new airline to re-establish the route. “We have a carrier interested,” Pelly said Tuesday during a lunchtime meeting of the Economic Forum of Palm Beach County. But changes at the L.A. airport have hindered the effort, he added. “The issue right now is what is going on in L.A.,” Pelly told the group gathered at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. “That airport in a state of flux, and they are moving carriers all over the building and relocating. As soon as they get settled down, and if they have capacity at a gate, we think we will probably get L.A. back.”
Roughly 18 months after it launched the non-stop service, American Airlines announced in 2015 that it planned to drop the flight. The direct route had been heralded as a major victory for PBIA as it competed with airports in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. At the time, American said efforts to keep up with customer demand and maximize profits led the company to cancel the flight. Pelly said the non-stop flight was “very successful,” adding that the merger between U.S. Airways and American Airlines contributed to it’s cancellation. “Unfortunately we had sold that flight to American Airlines, and in the process of selling that flight to American Airlines, U.S. Airways took over American Airlines,” Pelly said. “As soon as U.S. Airways took over they dropped the L.A. flight because their philosophy was everything should go through Charlotte.”
Meanwhile, as airlines continue to look for ways to cut costs, Pelly said the airport is also focused on boosting revenue from non-aviation sources, including land leases outside of the terminal. The county’s department of airports owns a number of parcels around PBIA, and Pelly said airport officials have inked a series of deals to lease some of those sites to other businesses.
In January, a travel-oriented convenience plaza opened next to the airport. The plaza, which includes a 7Eleven, Mobil gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts, also serves as the airport’s cell phone waiting lot. As part of the development agreement with the county, West Palm Beach Plaza LLC will lease the 3.5-acre site from the airport for $88,000 a year. The airport will receive 2.5 percent of annual gross revenues that exceed $1 million from the convenience store, restaurant and car wash. The airport will receive 3 percent of gross revenues that exceed $2.5 million. The airport also will receive one-half cent from every gallon of fuel sold at the gas station, airport officials said.
Airport officials have also agreed to lease property near the corner of Southern Boulevard and Congress Avenue to a Toyota dealership. A hotel is set to be built on another airport-owned parcel near the corner of Australian Avenue and Belvedere Road. Revenue from those leases will help reduce the cost of operating the airport, savings the department can use to help lower the fees that airlines pay to use the facility — a move that airport officials say could help attract more flights. “The more of those dollars that we can bring in, will help us reduce our cost to their airline and make us more attractive,” Pelly said. “We are always trying to figure out ways to get that number down.”