By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA COUNTY - Passengers will soon be flying between the Daytona Beach International Airport and The Big Apple.
That's what Stephen Cooke, director of business development at the airport, is working on.
"What we'd like to see is New York service," Mr. Cooke said. "We're talking to Jet Blue about that. One of the things we're working on is a travel bank."
In short, the airport is asking area businesses to put money into dedicated accounts to buy airline tickets to fly out of Daytona International. That money, it's hoped, will show airlines that the needed customers are there to open direct service to New York.
"Consolidated Tomoka (Land Co.) has agreed to $10,000 in tickets," Mr. Cooke said. "That's the first one. We're going to get more."
Mr. Cooke said the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce is helping to promote the travel bank. He said getting $50,000 to $100,000 in the travel bank could tip an airline in favor of opening the proposed service.
"If they use the aircraft we suggested, the (Embraer E-190), if they ran that thing here a couple times a day they'd be up to 60,000 passengers a year easily," he said.
The aircraft carries about 100 passengers, depending on internal configuration.
Mr. Cooke said the airline industry, and business at Daytona Beach International, has been steadily improving since 2009. The airport has two carriers, Delta and US Airways. From July 2010 to June 2011, there were about 524,000 enplanings and deplanings at the airport. That went up to about 568,000 between July 2011 and June 2012.
"We tend to get a lot of business types in here," Mr. Cooke said. "We don't tend to get a lot of tourists. We get a lot of business travelers who don't want to put up with (Orlando International Airport)."
Nevertheless, Mr. Cooke said the airline industry is notoriously risk averse and slow to try new things. He explained that while the industry's expenses are very large, its profit margins are narrow.
"The saying goes that the Wright Brothers flew the first plane in 1903, and the airline industry hasn't made a nickel since," he said.
Last year there was a refurbishing and updating runways at DBI, which cost about $10 million. The Federal Aviation Administration and Florida Department of Transportation funded most of that. According to Mr. Cooke, Delta and US Airways have started flying larger planes into the airport, too.
In addition to negotiating with Jet Blue to open service to New York, Mr. Cooke said he's having conversations with international carriers for flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.
"Since the first of the year, I've had 20 face-to-face meetings with airways," Mr. Cooke said. "I think they're more receptive. Two years ago, we fell off a cliff, the airline industry, and hit a recession. We've been digging our way out of that hole."