Baton Rouge airport, chamber looking to create incentive program to attract airlines

    In an effort to increase air service to the market, Baton Rouge Metro Airport officials are trying to drum up support among the business community and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration for the creation of an entity that could help provide financial incentives to airlines.

    Though plans are in the early stages, BTR Executive Director Mike Edwards says he has been talking to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the mayor’s office about the creation of a nonprofit organization—a 501(C)4, perhaps—or some sort of public-private partnership that could raise money that would be used to provide revenue guarantees to airlines that agree to bring new service to the market.

    Federal regulations prohibit the airport from offering direct, financial incentives to airlines in return for service. The airport is restricted to providing other types of incentives—marketing assistance or reduced landing fees, for instance.

    Third-party entities, on the other hand, can directly pay airlines in the event a new route loses money, which typically happens in the first several months it is offered, Edwards says.

    This is not the first time BTR has discussed such an idea, which many other regional markets have adopted successfully. A 2015 study for the airport done by consulting firm Emergent Method, looked at ways BTR could stem the “leakage” of passengers to nearby Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner and increase its competitiveness by partnering with the business community on incentives and revenue guarantees.

    Edwards, who took over as executive director at the airport in late 2018, cannot say why the airport never acted on the suggestions, but he says BTR has again engaged Emergent Method to help with the idea and is actively pursuing it as a goal for the new year.

    “This a renewed effort to make a hard push in 2020 to gain community support from the public and private sector to further incentivize air service at the Baton Rouge airport,” he says. “It’s very new but we’re very serious about it.”

    Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp confirms discussions are underway and that BRAC is interested in trying to establish a framework for such a program.

    In its 2019 survey of area executives, BRAC found that 27% cited either the market’s lack of air service or the cost of air service as one of their major concerns.

    “We think that is significant and it is motivating this fresh conversation,” Knapp says. “This really is something that needs to be elevated yet again so we can set up our incentives in the right way. It’s an early conversation but an important one.”

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