Logan Secures 5 New International Airlines In 2 Years

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Direct flights from Boston's Logan Airport to Dubai begin Monday night. In May, there'll be another new destination: Istanbul. Then in June, nonstop flights between Boston and Beijing begin.

Logan has signed up five new international airlines in the past two years. The airport is courting carriers from around the globe, and the charm offensive seems to be working. Experts say it's a remarkable feat.

Boston's International Growth 

"It's hard to find other examples as impressive as Boston," said Seth Kaplan, an analyst for the industry publication Airline Weekly.

"The fact that no legacy airline — what we call legacy airlines like American, United and so forth — that none of those airlines dominate Boston does help attract some of this service from abroad," Kaplan added.

Now up and running, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has helped fuel the boom in Boston's international business. (Bruce Smith/AP)
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has helped fuel the international boom. (Bruce Smith/AP)

JetBlue, which has relationships with more than 30 airlines, is another draw. Passengers can check their bags in Savannah, Ga., on a JetBlue flight to Boston and then continue with Aer Lingus to Dublin, and their bags go all the way without any rechecking. Additionally, JetBlue has essentially cornered the Boston market. It retains 26 percent of all Logan traffic.

On Monday JetBlue launches flights between Boston and Detroit. That's no coincidence. Detroit is a mecca for Arabs, and at 11:15 Monday night, the first Emirates Airline flight from Logan's Terminal E departs for the United Arab Emirates.

At a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting, the director of operations for JetBlue stopped Pubin Liang to swap business cards. Liang runs the North America service for Hainan Airlines. This June, Hainan begins flights from Boston to Beijing for as little as $1,200.

Boston is one of the strongest markets for China because of its economy, universities and corporations, Liang said.

"For the other airports, there's a lot of connecting passengers, but Boston is the largest point-to-point passenger pool," he said. "Statistically, Boston is attractive."

New Technology

Liang said Hainan wanted to to start flying to Boston a couple years ago, but it needed the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has had a problematic debut with fires and smoking batteries. Now up and running, the plane allows long flights, including the 14-hour trips to Beijing, with fewer passengers and on shorter runways.

This new airline technology is helping fuel the boom in Logan's business. In 2012, when Japan Airlines began service between Boston and Tokyo, it also used the Boeing 787.

The other selling point is that each of these new destinations is seen as a gateway to other countries.

In July, Copa Airlines, which is based in Panama, began flights to Panama City.

"Panama is the major connecting hub in Latin America," said Pedro Heilbron, Copa's CEO. "So our flight is not only about Panama; it's about connecting Panama with many other countries and destinations, and we connect Boston through Panama with seven cities in Brazil."

Heilbron said he's satisfied with how full his flights to Panama are these days.

"This flight is not even a year old," he said. "So the fact that we're doing as or better than expected is great for us."

Heilbron admitted winter is a busy season, and he is worried about March and April. But Copa is still young, he said, and needs to build its brand recognition.

That's where Massport is trying to help. It offers each of these new airlines freebies, such as advertisements on the side of Logan buses and temporary waivers for landing fees.

Airline Freebies

Tom Glynn, the head of Massport, said giving away perks is just part of doing business.

"Every airport basically is offering these incentive programs," Glynn said. "I don't really think ours is that different. What it really does is it makes it easier for a new airline in a new airport to kind of smooth out the startup."

Over the course of four years, with five new international airlines, the airport expects these subsidies will add up to $5.6 million.

That number may sound like a lot, but Massport is offering a fraction of what other major airports are shelling out. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, for example, expects its incentives will total $40 million over five years.

Heilbron said one concern is that Logan will inevitably become more congested. Overseas travel is the fastest-growing sector of the Logan market — up 20 percent in the last 10 years. Heilbron fears Boston could become another airport with notoriously long customs lines.

Glynn insists Logan has enough customs and border protection agents to cope with the influx.

"As we've expanded, we still have 15-minute waits on average, whereas a number of the other major airports have an hour's wait," Glynn said.

But by July, the airport will have three more international airlines.

Glynn said he's not concerned about accommodating the additional flights. This summer, $100-million renovations will begin at Logan to connect Terminal C with Terminal E, so transit passengers won't have to go through security twice.

There are also plans to install self-service kiosks for passport controls.

This segment aired on March 10, 2014.

Headshot of Asma Khalid

Asma Khalid Reporter
Asma Khalid formerly led WBUR's BostonomiX, a biz/tech team covering the innovation economy.



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