As travel advisories and alerts continue to restrict air travel due to the pandemic, international air service has resumed for a number of locations around the globe. Incredibly, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has not been designated as an airport to receive flights from Europe during the ongoing COVID-19 travel restriction. Top international destinations out of PHL affected by the bans include England, Ireland, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.
Pre-pandemic passenger volume from European counties was almost 7 percent of air travelers. Last year, PHL was 10th among U.S. airports with respect to total arriving passengers from transatlantic markets. Yet, PHL is currently the only airport among these ten airports restricted from accepting flights from transatlantic destinations. For airlines to reestablish connectivity to the U.S. market through one of their most utilized hubs on the east coast, it is critical for PHL to be approved as a gateway.
The time is now to remove this restriction and allow Greater Philadelphia to again serve as an entry point to our nation for transatlantic air service. Permitting this important world-class gateway to restore air service from Europe is critical to our region’s ability to quickly recover from the economic slowdown.
The Greater Philadelphia region serves as a key international gateway to enter and access the U.S. market. We are at the heart of one of the largest economic areas in the world—the total gross regional product within a 200-mile radius of our region would rank 4th in the world if considered a single national economy. In fact, 40% of the U.S. population is within a day’s drive of Greater Philadelphia and 60% of the U.S. and Canadian populations are accessible via a two-hour flight. Simply put, Greater Philadelphia is one of the most important market areas in the United States.
PHL’s prominence as a world-class international airport has been critical to our region’s emergence as a global first-tier 21st-century innovation economy. Transatlantic service to our region has been especially important to our competitive advantage. American Airlines’ main transatlantic gateway to Europe is PHL. In 2019, no other American Airlines hub had the level of nonstop destinations or frequencies to Europe. PHL also serves as key spoke on the networks for year-round service on British Airways, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways. PHL operated 26 transatlantic routes by 6 airlines in 2019. It is estimated that the economic impact of these overseas services was nearly $2 billion of revenue/output for the Philadelphia MSA in 2019.
Continued restrictions on PHL could mean the airlines will move their transatlantic service to markets away from the Greater Philadelphia area, perhaps permanently. That would mean we risk losing important connections to new and existing business opportunities, economic benefits from tourism and hospitality, and critical access to international talent attending our higher education institutions and contributing to our workplaces.
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia through its CEO Council for Growth is actively working with our partners at PHL and our congressional delegation to get transatlantic air service reinstated.
Our regional economy significantly depends on transatlantic air service at PHL. We call upon Washington to end this restriction and allow Greater Philadelphia to again open its gateway to Europe and the world.
Rob Wonderling is president and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected].