In an effort to attract new airlines – and customers – the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport has created a new incentive program.

Under the new incentive program, the airport will waive landing fees for airplanes and provide free marketing for airlines. The Santa Barbara City Council has already approved the airport’s proposal, and the policy is expected to last for one year.

According to Airport Director Karen Ramsdell, the offer is an uncharacteristic step for the local airport.

“At SBA we have not gone down that road [offering incentives] because our philosophy was that an airline entering a market should be able to make a profit based on the demand in the market,” she said.

According to a council agenda report, SBA is the busiest commercial service airport on the coast between San Jose and Los Angeles, providing an economic impact that is estimated at more than a half billion dollars annually. However, due to less than desirable fuel costs and the current economy, business cannot sustain itself as usual.

“Airlines are in business to make money and if they are not making a profit in a community or if the passenger demand is not there, they will pull the service -regardless of incentives,” Ramsdell said. “As more and more airports began offering incentives, the airlines began to ask for them whether they really needed them or not.”

In addition to waiving landing fees – which are approximately $34,500 per flight – the airport has offered to spend up to $50,000 to advertise the expanded map of destinations offered to passengers.

The incentives are seen as a necessary boost to help the community airport compete for airline service amongst big league airports such as Bob Hope Airport and Los Angeles International. In a report submitted to the City Council by Ramsdell, the potential benefits of the program appeared promising.

According to estimates proposed by airport officials, the incentive package could potentially result in an annual gain of $71,000 in revenue. This monetary gain is computed on the assumption that the program would bring approximately 9,000 new passengers to SBA, each one of which, the report states, would spend an average of $12 on airport concessions such as food and parking.

In light of this potential benefit, airport officials have reevaluated their position on incentives. Although the policy is expected to benefit the airport in the long run, Ramsdell does not expect immediate changes.

“I do not expect that we will have new airlines approaching us to start service nor existing airlines wanting to add new routes until the economy improves and the airlines’ financial situations improve,” she said.