Philly lags in int'l flights

Mike Strange, of Bassetts Ice Cream, has to fly to Chicago to meet a customer from China.
Mike Strange, of Bassetts Ice Cream, has to fly to Chicago to meet a customer from China. (Michael Klein /
Posted: November 15, 2012

Mike Strange, president of Philadelphia-based Bassetts Ice Cream, has to catch a flight to Chicago on Wednesday morning to meet with a customer from China.

Bassetts' business is booming in China, but the customer could not get a direct flight from China to Philadelphia.

"That means an extra flight for me to Chicago and for my broker," Strange said. "Given my druthers, I would not be flying to Chicago."

A recent report by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program on global air travel shows that Philadelphia grew its international-passenger levels from 2003 to 2011 by 6 percent.

But at the same time, the report shows, Philly, the fifth-most-populous metropolitan area, ranked last in growth rate among the 10 most populous U.S. regions, in which international-passenger levels increased from 20 percent to 45 percent.

And 63 percent of Philadelphia's international "through passengers" - people who fly to or from an airport when that airport is not a start or end destination - are to Western Europe. Far fewer through passengers - about 6 percent - go between Philadelphia and rapidly growing economies in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

At the rate his sales are growing, Strange said, Bassetts may sell more ice cream in China next year than in Philadelphia and the rest of the U.S. The fifth-generation family business has been in Philly since 1861. (

Strange flies to China twice a year, also connecting through Chicago each time.

"I'd love a direct flight from Philadelphia to Beijing or Shanghai," he said. "It would certainly make things easier. I'd probably be inclined to take more trips."

The Brookings report (see found that international aviation routes serve as an urban economic engine at home, generating tourism exports and supporting local industry.

Global trade accounted for $18 trillion in merchandise in 2011 and $4.2 million in services, Brookings said.

Among the report's main recommendations:

* Strengthen partnerships among the feds, metro areas, the private sector and other nations to maximize performance of the global aviation network.

* Realign existing programs to support metro gateways and the changing global economy.

* Focus on critical investments that demand a "present" federal partner in a next-generation air-transport system.


Contact Michael Hinkelman at or 215-854-2656. Follow him on Twitter @MHinkelman.

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