Flights Returning to Worcester Airport, but Without Air Traffic Control

For the first time in over a year, commercial flights are scheduled to fly out of Worcester Regional Airport. State officials announced Wednesday that JetBlue will begin daily service to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida in November. Massachusetts Port Authority aviation director Ed Freni says the move is necessary to keep the Worcester airport viable. But the new flights may have to operate without an air traffic control tower. Late last month the Federal Aviation Authority announced it will close 149 air traffic control towers around the country as part of the sequester cuts – including the tower at Worcester. Freni says the lack of a staffed tower is not an impediment to JetBlue’s new Worcester service, and says commercial flights can run from the airport without a control tower. Freni says Massport is working with the FAA to eventually bring back a working tower to the airport as service expands.

“We’ll just kind of muddle through this process until we get it resolved. But we know we’re going to need the tower, the FAA knows that, and they’re going to work with us to make sure that’s covered properly,” says Freni.

Massport owns the Worcester airport, which it acquired from the city in 2010 for over $15 million. The airport’s most recent airline, Direct Air, flew out of Worcester from 2008 to 2012, before filing for bankruptcy. Direct Air attracted over 100,000 passengers in 2011, and Freni says he thinks JetBlue can triple that number. Massport is providing incentives for JetBlue’s new service, it will allow the airline to forego $275,000 in fees for the next two years, and provide $150,000 worth of marketing.