Northwest Service Is Picking Up

June 24, 2002
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MUSKEGON — The increase in travel bookings out of Muskegon’s airport has led Northwest Airlines to resume one Detroit-to-Muskegon flight that the airline scrubbed in September.

The flight is No. 3184, which departs Detroit Metro at 8:45 a.m., arriving in Muskegon at 10 a.m. Northwest reported the flight will resume Dec. 18 and will operate seven days a week.

Terry Grevious, the airport’s manager, said he’s happy to see the decision not only because it improves service to the community, but also because it shows Northwest is making money with the flight and feels it will continue doing so.

Three other commuter flights, including a Muskegon-Milwaukee route, also were pulled after Sept. 11. So far there’s no word on whether the airlines will reinstitute them. In the wake of Sept. 11, travel at the airport dropped 15 percent but since has risen to pre-September levels.

Muskegon County Airport serves about 300 passengers daily — about 65 percent of them business travelers — through 18 commuter flights.

Grevious said an airline isn’t so much concerned with how many passengers fly out of an airport, but what percentage of seats those passengers fill on a plane. He explained the airlines express that percentage as a flight’s “load factor.”

“Right now our average load factor out of Muskegon is 66 percent,” Grevious said, “which is very, very good.

“Before Northwest pulled its morning flight in September,” he said, “the load factor was averaging 45 to 50 percent, which is OK, but not really profitable. Obviously Northwest thinks it’s going to do better, now.”

And another factor in Northwest’s decision, he suspects, is that before too long, people who fly Northwest betweem Detroit and mid-Michigan are going to find the experience a bit more pleasant.

In a briefing earlier this year from Northwest, Grevious learned that Detroit Metro will open its new midfield terminal in mid-January and that all Northwest flights will originate from it.

“And that means the end of what a lot of people found to be a pretty negative experience,” Grevious said, chuckling.

He was referring to the farthest end of Concourse G at Detroit Metro, a taxiway-level set of boarding gates through which Northwest has served Lower Peninsula communities for years.

It’s an area to which passengers over the years have referred in disparaging terms, perhaps the most printable being the word “gross.”

The dilapidated site also was one of the few areas at Metro where passengers departed for their planes in 1950’s style: on foot or aboard busses. Some passengers speculated that the suspension and muffler systems of the busses also seemed to date from the ’50s.

As of mid-January, however, Northwest plans to return the Concourse G bus fleet to the boneyard.

The airline’s passengers bound for Grand Rapids and Muskegon and other lower Michigan cities will board their planes through all-weather boarding bridges, just as they have been able to do for years at their home terminals.

Construction of the $1.5 billion terminal started four years ago and was to have been completed by the end of this year.

Grevious told the Business Journal that delays have pushed the midfield terminal’s opening back to mid-January.

Northwest said the new midfield terminal — which will have an overhead monorail to speed passenger travel from gate to gate — will accommodate 395 jetliner departures a day plus the firm’s 125 regional flights, which normally are turboprop aircraft.

Northwest stresses that all its flights will use the midfield terminal and that passengers won’t be bussed anywhere.

The midfield terminal is one of four major projects at Metro.

Within days the airport also is opening a fourth parallel runway — bringing the facility’s total to six — while also creating a new ground traffic entrance on the south side of the structure to improve traffic.

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