Originally posted in the Columbus Dispatch:
Could Tokyo or Mumbai join the list of destinations from Port Columbus?
It’s not likely to happen within the next year, but securing a direct flight to Asia seems increasingly likely with the growth in travel between central Ohio and countries such as India, Japan and China.
“Service is not imminent. But it is certain; it’s just an issue of timing. It will happen,” said David Whitaker, vice president of business development for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority.
His leadership role with the authority, which oversees Port Columbus and Rickenbacker airports, will take him this month to meet with passenger and cargo airlines in Shanghai and Tokyo, as well as Dubai.
Earlier this year, Whitaker made one of his regular visits to Great Britain to meet with British Airways about London service, which Columbus has been actively seeking for more than a dozen years.
On the cargo side — driven largely by the area’s major fashion retailers — Columbus has had recent success in attracting regularly scheduled freight flights from Cathay Pacific Cargo and Cargolux between Columbus and points in Asia, and from Emirates SkyCargo to the Middle East.
Cargo also is a factor when airlines add passenger service. Passenger planes typically carry cargo in their “belly” that can make a major contribution to revenue.
But when airlines add flights it’s most important that they can be confident their planes will be filled with passengers.
One of the area companies that can be expected to be a regular customer for both cargo and passenger service is Honda, and Whitaker stays in touch. Honda has been key in regaining nonstop service between Port Columbus and Los Angeles, which is a popular gateway to Asia.
In the past five years alone, air travel between Columbus and India has increased by a third, to 47 passengers per day in 2015. Japan is a close second at 45 passengers, up 40 percent from 2011. China is third, with 38 travelers per day, up 29 percent.
Whitaker has made the trip to Asia every year or two for about six years. That’s not as long or as frequently as Whitaker has visited Europe to seek flights to gateways there. Columbus generates more passengers to European destinations, but demand for service to Asia has been growing quickly.
International flights have become highly sought-after as an economic development tool to retain and attract major employers. Development groups including Columbus 2020 and JobsOhio are involved in the effort to boost air service. Ohio’s only nonstop flight to Europe for the past several years has been Delta Air Line’s flight to Paris out of Cincinnati’s airport, located in northern Kentucky.
Tammy Troilo-Krings, CEO and founder of Columbus-based corporate travel management firm Travel Solutions, said getting nonstop service to a major international gateway in Europe or Asia is something that can quickly pay dividends for a city.
“If Columbus wants to be on the international map as the capital of Ohio … we have to have international service,” Troilo-Krings said. “Without it, we’ll continue to bring business here, but it will be the warehouses, call centers … the kinds of jobs that don’t rely on executive travel.”
In the nearer term, getting nonstop service to another major West Coast hub would be good for the airport and for business travelers.
Whitaker says that Alaska Air, which recently announced plans to buy Virgin America, is interested in entering Columbus with nonstop service to its Seattle hub.
Seattle is the top destination from Columbus that is without nonstop service, with 100 passengers per day flying the route on connecting flights. No announcements have been made, but Whitaker said he is hopeful that Seattle could be added to the Port Columbus route map in the near future.