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Duke City Gains JetBlue, Nonstop Flights to NYC

Mayor Richard J. Berry gives the “State of the City” address to business leaders at the Marriott Pyramid Hotel on Wednesday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
Mayor Richard J. Berry gives the “State of the City” address to business leaders at the Marriott Pyramid Hotel on Wednesday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
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New York and Albuquerque will get a little closer this spring – at least by air.

Mayor Richard Berry announced Wednesday that JetBlue plans to begin offering nonstop flights between the Sunport and John F. Kennedy International Airport. It was part of his annual “State of the City” address.

But passengers will have to stay up pretty late to catch the flights, which start April 22.

Planes leaving Albuquerque will depart at 11:55 p.m. and arrive at 5:57 a.m. In the opposite direction, flights will leave JFK at 8:25 p.m. and arrive at 11:04 p.m.

“It just got easier to travel in and out of Albuquerque for tourism and business,” Berry told reporters after his speech.

Berry also announced Wednesday that the city:

♦ Recovered about $5 million in “claw back” funds from Schott Solar, which shut down its Albuquerque operations this summer. The city, among other governments, had provided tax breaks to the company.

Berry said he will propose that the money be used to create an economic-development fund to better market the city, pay for job training and pay for other efforts to spur job creation.

♦ The city will offer $5,000 bonuses to cadets who finish the police academy and $500 bonuses to city employees who succeed in recruiting an officer. The initiatives are aimed, in part, at bolstering recruitment in case there’s a heavy wave of retirements. The state is considering changes to government pensions, which could trigger retirements.

Berry has never committed to having a certain number of officers on the force. He repeated on Wednesday that “the right number is the number it takes to get the job done” and that crime rates are low.

The cadet class that graduated last month – 11 officers – was the smallest since 2007.

Recent figures reported to the FBI show major crimes in Albuquerque climbed 5 percent last year, compared with 2010. Berry said Wednesday that the city is still on track to make 2010-12 the years with “the three lowest crime rates in the past 20 years.”

As for JetBlue, Berry said the city will provide incentives, but the incentives will not include guarantees of a certain level of revenue. Instead, the Sunport will offer reduced lease rates and landing fees to JetBlue or any other airline that starts new nonstop flights.

JetBlue doesn’t currently serve Albuquerque.

The city also agreed to consider paying for some joint marketing efforts.

The details aren’t final, city officials said, and the lease agreement still must get City Council approval.

“There’s going to be some risk taken on both sides of this,” said Daniel Jiron, a spokesman for the city’s Aviation Department. “It’s not something that’s taken lightly. (But) we couldn’t be more pleased.”

The price of the tickets hasn’t been set yet.

Jiron said the city is willing to enter into similar incentive packages for other airlines, but the terms will depend on what new service is being offered.

Berry saved the JetBlue announcement for the end of his State of the City speech. He said he met personally with JetBlue CEO Dave Barger.

The “direct flight to New York City will open up tremendous new opportunities for business travel, tourism and economic development,” he said.

It will be the only direct flight between the cities. There have been no regular nonstop routes to the area since 2008, when service to Newark, N.J., ended.

Berry delivered his speech to a luncheon sponsored by Albuquerque Economic Development Inc., a nonprofit that works with businesses interested in expanding to or investing in Albuquerque. He delivered it again Wednesday night at the Albuquerque Art and History Museum.

The speeches come as Berry enters the last 11 months of his term. He hasn’t said whether he will seek re-election next year.

After the address, Berry took questions from reporters – some of which centered on a survey released this week by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association. The APOA said a survey of its members showed that morale is low and that 95 percent of the respondents disapprove of the job Berry is doing with regard to APD.

Berry said he hadn’t seen the survey but that “we have one of the finest departments in the country.” Keeping both the public and officers safe is a priority, he said, and he looks forward to reading the survey.

“It’s neither my goal nor my job to win a popularity contest with the union,” Berry said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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