The Sky’s the Limit at Westover

It’s way, way too early to speculate about what the arrival of the low-fare airline Skybus at Westover Metropolitan Airport in Chicopee will mean for that facility, the region’s tourism and hospitality sector, and the Western Mass. business community as a whole. But at this early juncture, it all looks good — very good.

There is a buzz at the airport each evening just before 7, as the inbound flight from Columbus, Ohio arrives, carrying an average of about 100 passengers. These are, by and large, people who wouldn’t be coming into the Pioneer Valley otherwise. They are taking advantage of the carrier’s low fares (some tickets sell for as little as $10) to fly into a stop labeled ‘Hartford’ on the Skybus map of its routes.

Many of those arriving in Chicopee are moving on to other destinations — Boston, Cape Cod, Albany, and others — while some are making the Valley their destination, which means they’ll be spending some money here.

It will take several weeks or perhaps months or even a full year to gauge just how much they’re spending and what the overall impact from the one daily flight will be, but early returns show that people are renting cars, staying in area hotels, eating at local restaurants, and visiting area attractions. Skybus isn’t transforming the local economy, certainly, but all signs show that it will provide a needed boost in the form of both awareness and actual spending.

This is what Westover officials envisioned when they first sat down with Skybus administrators more than two years ago, but it took quite some time and considerable negotiations to make the vision reality.

The success of Southwest Airlines, among others, would certainly indicate that low-fare carriers make travel (or more travel) feasible for many people. Thus, they make the cities they fly to more accessible. Any time a region is more accessible, it benefits economically — if it is positioned to take full advantage of its opportunity.

And here, the Valley has some work to do. It needs to step up marketing efforts in Columbus and perhaps other cities served by Skybus to keep the region visible and plant the seeds for more visits. Meanwhile, all those involved with tourism and hospitality in this region have to work together to generate positive experiences for visitors, stays that will prompt them to return and also offer positive reviews that will prompt others to come here.

Overall, what people have to remember is that the current Skybus service is a start. Eventually, there could be a different flight, one departing earlier — thus giving passengers better odds of making connecting flights the same day — or two daily flights. And perhaps there could eventually be more low-fare airlines operating out of the airport.

This is a start — but a very solid start.-

WGGB Acquired by BusinessWest Publisher

On July 31, BusinessWest publisher John Gormally entered into an agreement with the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to acquire substantially all the assets of WGGB Channel 40 in Springfield for $21.2 million.

Gormally, who founded BusinessWest in 1984, has created Gormally Broadcasting LLC, a venture that will now make ABC40 the only locally owned television station in the Greater Springfield market.

“I’m very excited about the prospects of returning local ownership to Channel 40, which has been a Springfield-area institution for more than a half-century,” said Gormally. “I look forward to working with the staff at the station and members of this community to make Channel 40 an even greater asset to our region.”

The sale of the station is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2007.