Not Quite The Friendly Skies

December 10, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — According to the director of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, a soon-to-be-released study will document that the airport is losing customers to other airports because the airlines are cutting back flights to fill more seats on fewer trips in order to raise airfares.

“It’s a situation of supply and demand,” said airport director James Koslosky of what the airline industry has called “rightsizing.”

Koslosky said the “leakage” study will show that flight cuts have left the airport with 30 percent fewer seats to offer travelers than it had in past years. Fewer seats have forced those who normally would have flown from Ford to drive to other airports. He said the airport most people have chosen is O’Hare in Chicago, and not the closer ones in Flint and Lansing.

“We now know that is fact,” he said.

Koslosky also said the study will confirm one of his biggest fears: that the clientele the airport is losing are premium customers and not those who are looking for discounted fares.

“Quite frankly, we’re not getting any respect from the airlines,” he said.

USA Today reported last week that six carriers have scheduled an average of 4.4 percent fewer seats for domestic flights next month than the airlines flew in January 2007, as a cost-cutting response to higher prices for jet fuel.

But United, one of the six carriers named, announced it would sell 8.4 percent fewer seats next month than it did in January 2007.

The reduction means there will be 72,000 fewer seats sold by those carriers for U.S. flights next month. Five of those six airlines serve Ford airport.

“There is money being left on the table here for all the airlines,” said Koslosky.

Airline industry analysts told the Associated Press last week that carriers could boost fares if there weren’t as many competing flights. AP also reported that Delta plans to offer the same number of flights next month that it did in January 2007.

When asked if the airport was any closer to signing a low-cost carrier, Koslosky said it wasn’t and he added that Southwest isn’t entering any new markets now. But Koslosky also said that when the airlines get their books in order, he is confident that Grand Rapids will be among the first cities carriers will consider.

“The airport is well positioned to help an airline create a successful business model,” he said.

Koslosky made his comments last week before the Convention and Arena Authority board. He also told board members that the aeronautics department has made $300 million worth of improvements to the airport over the past 15 years without going to taxpayers.

“We’ve accomplished this because we realize we are a regional airport,” he said. “We don’t just serve Kent County. We serve 13 counties.”

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