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Wi-Fi may fly at Bob Hope

Staff to research whether complimentary Internet would attract more passengers. Airport has seen drop in revenue.

October 15, 2008|By Jeremy Oberstein and The Leader

BURBANK — Bob Hope Airport, hoping to better suit the needs of modern travelers, is considering offering free high-speed Internet. But the plan could be derailed by a struggling economy and sagging passenger figures.

At the Oct. 6 Burbank-Glendale- Pasadena Airport Authority meeting, Commissioner Carl Povilaitis asked staff members to research the viability of providing free Internet throughout the airport, including the legal ramifications of terminating contracts with the three current providers.

The airport hosts three Internet providers at the airport — AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless — each of which pays a $31,620 annual fee to the authority. Customers at the airport can subscribe to a respective network via existing cell towers atop a terminal building, airport spokesman Victor Gill said.

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But providing free Internet to travelers could come at too steep a price to the authority in a harsh economic climate characterized in some part by dwindling passengers and decreased revenue.

The airport recorded 15.15% fewer passengers in August than at the same point last year and a 5.95% dip in passengers the first seven months of this year compared with the same period in 2007, according to an authority staff report.

“No matter how we do this, it’s a balance between generating revenue and providing a level of satisfaction to customers who come through,” Povilaitis said.

The authority might consider a number of options to offset the loss of nearly $95,000 in annual revenue, including asking an Internet provider to underwrite some of the costs, perhaps by including online advertisements, he said.

Staff members are researching the topic and could return with a full report to the authority in a matter of months, Gill said.

As officials move to meet the demands of 21st century travelers who have come to expect increased Internet points of access, more airports could increase their online output, said Brett Snyder, who writes the airline blog Cranky Flier.

“It is becoming more and more common,” he said. “Some airports have an airport-wide program, and in other places, the airlines have programs to provide free Wi-Fi.”

If the authority does implement free Internet throughout Bob Hope Airport, it would be the first regional airport to introduce a comprehensive program to provide all its travelers with complimentary online access.

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