ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: Direct trans-Atlantic flights are key to economic development

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Indianapolis Business Journal

There’s no doubt the pandemic has taught us that business travel isn’t always as important as it used to be. Plenty of business can be conducted by Zoom or some other form of videoconferencing.

But virtual connections still can’t totally replace the face-to-face meetings, handshakes and in-person trust building that usually needs to occur to land new clients, establish long-standing relationships and close big deals.

That’s why it is so heartening to know that Indianapolis Airport Authority officials are working with Delta Air Lines to re-establish the direct Indianapolis-to-Paris flight lost during the pandemic, or maybe even another direct destination such as London.

As IBJ’s Mickey Shuey reported last week, nothing firm is likely to happen until 2023 or 2024, when business travel is expected to pick up. It might never return to pre-pandemic levels. A Bloomberg survey of 45 large companies last summer revealed that 84% plan to spend less on business travel even after pandemic threats have ended.

As Greg Hayes, CEO of jet-engine maker Raytheon Technologies Corp., told Bloomberg Radio, business travel has “forever changed” as sophisticated communication technologies make it possible to meet virtually with anyone around the world, without any disruption in productivity and no jet lag.

But, as the Society for Human Resource Management reported this week, many companies are starting to embrace some types of business travel again, especially for the purposes of securing new clients or sending key employees to training opportunities in an effort to retain them.

Direct flights to commercial hubs around the world would create better opportunities for Indiana businesses to land clients and establish business connections in those cities.

A study by economists at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the University of Zurich found that cities connected with at least one weekly direct flight have significantly higher levels of business connectivity than those not connected by a weekly flight. “The movement of people fosters the movement of capital: The ability to establish face-to-face contact between people is an important factor buttressing the ability to do business,” the study found.

When the direct flight from Indianapolis to Paris was launched in 2018, it became the state’s first-ever nonstop trans-Atlantic air service. It was just one flight, but it greatly expanded the city’s global reach. Those flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport were able to connect to flights to more than 100 destinations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India.

The pandemic took those global connections away from us, and we need them back to continue to build a brighter economic tomorrow.

We encourage airport, city and state officials to keep pushing for more direct flights to key international destinations. It’s critical for economic growth. And we’d be the first to acknowledge that it would also be nice to catch a direct flight from Indianapolis for a European vacation.

We all need a break from this pandemic.

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