Elite Airways postponement to cost local economy $60k per day, says airport director

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Empty Elite Airways ticketing kiosks in Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (Steve Roberts, Jr/WYDaily).
Empty Elite Airways ticketing kiosks in Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. (Steve Roberts, Jr/WYDaily).

After an announcement Monday, Elite Airways has postponed the start of service to the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport — and that could have consequences for the local economy. 

As of 2010, the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport supported 3,349 jobs and brought over $369 million dollars in economic activity across the Peninsula, according to state data 

Ken Spirito, the airport’s executive director, said Elite Airways had been planning to launch six flights per week, with intentions to expand to eight flights, equating to nearly 17,000 potential passengers each month.

Citing the most recent economic impact study conducted by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Spirito said each passenger who visits the airport generates $703 in economic impact for the local community.

“The delay of Elite Airways service is costing the local community nearly $60,000 a day in economic impact,” he said. “As you can see, airlines and airports are very important to the local and global economy.”

In a statement to media, the airport said Elite decided to suspend its planned launch due to “continuing headlines which are preventing the introduction of this new brand properly to our community.”

Request for comment from Elite Airways was declined by its publicist Rebecca Ayers of McBride Marketing Group.

Weeks before the planned launch date of March 13, The Daily Press published a series of articles detailing the Peninsula Airport Commission’s use of state funds to repay a $4.55 million private loan to the now-defunct airline People Express.

While the airport states it did not violate any laws, the publicity generated in recent days led Elite to postpone service due to — in the airline’s own words — “challenging perceptions surrounding the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.”

The airline first announced in December it would begin servicing Newport News (PHF) with flights to two airports in the greater New York City area. The airline planned to offer nonstop jet service between PHF and Newark Airport and Long Island MacArthur Airport starting March 13.

According to the 2011 Commonwealth of Virginia Statewide Economic Impact Study, each departing passenger brought $703 in economic impact before adjusted for inflation. Each departing passenger would bring in more than $770 in 2016 when adjusted for inflation.

Karen Riordan, President and CEO of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance, said she is hopeful that Elite will begin servicing the Peninsula soon.

“We certainly hope Elite will plan a new start date very soon, so we can continue to grow tourism visitation from some of their core markets in New York and New England,” said Riordan. “This will be additive leisure and corporate business, since Williamsburg core markets continue to be drive markets of D.C., northern Virginia, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Raleigh.”

James City County Administrator Bryan Hill said the airline would help open up the region’s economy to nearly 12 million people by adding an hour and a half flight to the New York City area.

“We need direct flights to large population centers,” Hill said. “It’s an additional airline and it would be great to have. If we get it, I personally would use it and I’m certain business people in New York would come here directly.”