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How Logan landed direct flights from around the world

Massport negotiates deals with airlines and supplies them with what Aeromexico officials said was exceptionally detailed market research compared to other airports.
Massport negotiates deals with airlines and supplies them with what Aeromexico officials said was exceptionally detailed market research compared to other airports.Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images/Getty

Hong Kong. Dubai. Istanbul. Panama City. Tokyo. Tel Aviv. Beijing. Mexico City.

In the last eight years, Logan International Airport has greatly expanded its role as the state’s gateway to the world. The Massachusetts Port Authority has added 17 nonstop international flights at Logan, often beating out other big cities to directly connect the state with some of the fastest-growing international economies.

How did that happen?

First, the state’s highest-ranking politician literally traveled around the world to meet with airline executives and get Logan on their radar. Massport made pitches backed with loads of financial data showing how new routes could succeed. Influential Boston executives personally courted the decision makers, promising their employees would help fill seats on new flights. The closer: incentives that sometimes topped a million dollars.

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“In this industry, you hear lots of demands because everyone wants to have connectivity and nonstop service,” said Andrés Conesa, chief executive of Aeromexico. “There is never a second chance to make a first good impression. You really can feel it when people want you there and they are really making an effort to get you.”

Conesa’s first impression came in March, when Governor Deval Patrick and a group of about 20 government officials and business executives traveled on a trade mission to Panama and Mexico.

Patrick’s goal in Mexico was to land a flight to the nation’s capital. But Boston wasn’t a top priority for Aeromexico, the country’s major airline.

“But when you have a trade mission and you have the governor, you pay particular attention to that project versus other ones,” Conesa said. Logan bested airports in London and Paris to land the new Aeromexico flight this month.

Patrick has been interested in air travel since he first flew from Chicago to New York at age 8, dressed in his Easter suit and a tie.

He served four years on the United Airlines board, a position that gave him access to flight simulations and a seat in the cockpit during takeoffs and landings.

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But he said the push for more international routes at Logan wasn’t connected to his flight history. It was an important part of a larger strategy to improve commerce and add jobs in the state. The ability to connect with the international business community is critical, he said.

“It’s a global economy, and if you’re going to win in the global economy, you have to play,” he said. “The nature of business today is that before you make money, you have to make friends. To make friends you have to go and they have to come.”

Shortly after Patrick’s trade mission to China in 2007, Hainan Airlines Co. verbally committed a nonstop route to Beijing. In 2011, Patrick flew to New Jersey to catch a connecting flight to Tel Aviv, which landed at 2 a.m. Boston time. He showered in the airport and went straight to a meeting with the chief executive of El Al Israel Airlines to convince him to fly to Logan. Again, the personal touch made a difference.

“He’s one of the best sales people that I’ve ever met,” said Daniel O’Connell, Patrick’s former secretary of housing and economic development. “He knows the international business world and has credibility in it.”

Thomas Glynn, the chief executive of Massport, said Patrick’s relationship with President Obama earns him a certain level of respect in other countries. His United background also helps. “He really understands airline economics and really talks their language,” Glynn said.

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Massport negotiates deals with airlines and supplies them with what Aeromexico officials said was exceptionally detailed market research compared to other airports — information on traffic between Boston and Mexico City and expected growth, annual ticket sales forecasts, and an analysis of the economic impact in both regions.

Glynn said Massport pushes airlines to consider the size of Boston’s traveling community and the international reach of its universities and local companies — rather than the city's overall population.

“Massport is in the top 1 percent in how they prepare the case and how they know the market, which helps us tremendously in the startup of a new route,” said Anko van der Werff, chief revenue officer of Aeromexico. “It’s a massive investment for us. They’re unique to give that confidence.”

Local business leaders often meet with airline executives and pledge to patronize the route, which is important to airlines because business class seats make more money than tickets for the economy cabin.

O’Connell now runs the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, a nonprofit comprising 16 chief executives from the biggest companies in the state. The companies in the group, which collectively employ 140,000 people here and 700,000 worldwide, as well as the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, are called on regularly to pitch in.

Robert Kraft, a member of the partnership and the owner of the New England Patriots, accompanied Patrick on trade missions to Israel. The chief executive of El Al visited Kraft’s house on a Sunday evening, the day before the before the deal was announced. During the courtship, Miami and Chicago were also in the running for the new flight.

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Gary Gottlieb, chief executive of Partners HealthCare, and senior executives of EMC Corp. also met with the El Al on other occasions. EMC, the Hopkinton data storage giant, has acquired about a dozen Israeli companies.

Patrick said incentives end up closing the deal. It’s a common practice for Logan and other airports to waive landing fees for the first year and promote flights in the local market. Since 2012, Massport has pledged $8.2 million to eight airlines under its incentives program.

One last factor: the advent of the 787 Dreamliner. The fuel-efficient jet, which carries a maximum of about 325 passengers, was just the right size to make many direct international flights from Logan profitable. Glynn said Japan Airlines Co. put Logan on the map when it started flying the plane between Tokyo and Boston in 2012, despite the aircraft’s initial safety problems.

Patrick said the collaboration between government and business to land new direct international flights has been successful because it’s a common practice in the much of the world.

“Government is a part of the sales team,” he said of other countries. “And in some places, it takes government to open the doors in the first place.”


Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com.

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