Airport Doing Its Part For Conventions

December 15, 2003
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It would seem there is an undertow of dissention between the Kent County Aeronautics Board and the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is an undertow that should be addressed rather than pulling down the efforts of either entity.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Steve Wilson last week laid low the efforts of the airport, complaining that without direct service from hub airports — especially Denver and Washington, D.C. — the new convention center would be seriously impaired in terms of what conventions could be attracted.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Kent County Aeronautics Director James Koslosky was amidst “annual review” efforts with local media as Wilson sounded the alarm. But it is an alarm that is incongruous with the facts, and therefore suspect in origin.

In an editorial board meeting with Grand Rapids Business Journal early last week, Koslosky made a point of the non-stop commercial service to D.C. that was initiated by the airport twice, and both times the service was discontinued for lack of passenger activity. (He also pointed out Gerald R. Ford International Airport lost service to Toronto, St. Louis, LaGuardia, Columbus and Indianapolis for the same reason.) Koslosky commented that direct service to Denver also has been lobbied, and jokingly added, by the same 20 people. The Business Journal notes that Koslosky emphasized that the airport will not be directly impacted by increased convention traffic related to the new DeVos Place for at least five years, explaining that most of what has been booked up until now is regional business and conference attendees are driving to Grand Rapids.

Given Koslosky’s record of success and national leadership, the Business Journal has every reason to believe that airport services will continue to grow to needed levels based on market drivers. It is important to report that Koslosky also is building business out-of-the-box, so to speak, with discount airlines like ATA, Southwest, Air Tran and Jet Blue. These are in addition to new service to Houston, Continental twice-daily flights to Newark and seven daily flights to Midway.

At a time when major commercial airline companies are begging for bailouts, the discount air service business is a priority, and one might say it is a poor time to demand services unmatched by passenger use and dollars.

That said, the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics showed U.S. airlines lost 6.4 percent of its domestic traffic in the first half of this year. Conversely, Gerald R. Ford International Airport passenger traffic is up 3 percent.

Koslosky also noted regional competition from five airports in a 50-mile radius of Grand Rapids is unprecedented nationally. The cooperative marketing program planned by the airport is a positive approach in further diversifying airline service at Ford International, and will benefit the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Such a partnership is a significant strength in the face of airline problems and market-driven service problems, rather than the distraction of an ill-timed lobby.    

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