Airport Reaches Out To Get Airline Service

July 20, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Gerald R. Ford International Airport officials once again participated in the annual JumpStart Air Service Development Program to meet with various airline representatives. 

Airports developed JumpStart through the Airports Council International-North America marketing and communications committee and are the direct stakeholders in the program. Airports participating in JumpStart have the chance to meet with representatives from a number of airlines in one day and at the same place. Twenty-four airlines participated in the June JumpStart held in Montreal. Airports provide ACI-NA with their top 10 choices of airlines, and the organization matches them with the airlines they’re most interested in.

Airport Spokesman Bruce Schedlbauer said Ford International asked to meet with nine airlines, of which four declined and five agreed. Low-cost carriers Air Tran, Frontier and Southwest were among those that airport officials sat down with. Airline and airport representatives were given 20 minutes to discuss passenger air service issues and opportunities of mutual interest. It’s something akin to “speed dating.”

“We’ll go in with a community overview that includes economic development data,” Schedlbauer said. “We talk about our leakage analysis. If an airline already serves our market, then we have a discussion about the existing service. If a carrier doesn’t currently serve the market, we ask what their general plans are for markets of our size.”

In some cases, Ford International will go into a JumpStart meeting with a profit and loss analysis of a proposed airline route if the route shows a very positive strategy, he said. 

“This year we didn’t go in with any particular route forecast because it’s just not an environment to be asking a lot of the airlines to do anything other than retain service if they’re already in your market,” Schedlbauer said.

As Schedlbauer sees it, the JumpStart meetings are as much about establishing, maintaining and building relationships with airlines as they are about gaining new air service.

He said very few airports could say they’ve gained new airline service based on JumpStart alone. JumpStart is just a step in the process, he said.

Representatives of Ford International participate in JumpStart every year, so they meet with some of the same airlines year after year. But as Schedlbauer pointed out, there is always the possibility of a new airline or that new route-planning personnel may have joined an existing airline.

It’s just as important to stay in touch with the airlines between JumpStart meetings through e-mails and phone calls, Schedlbauer said. He underscored the fact that marketing the airport is not just an airport-only initiative: The Right Place Inc., the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kent County Convention and Arena Authority, along with some area business leaders, have come together in support of the airport’s marketing efforts as a collaborative activity, he said

“In cooperation with our community partners, we continue to work on several fronts to retain existing passenger service and attract complementary, sustainable air service to the West Michigan market,” added James Koslosky, executive director of the Kent County Department of Aeronautics.

Ford International is the second busiest airport in Michigan and ranks among the top 15 percent of busiest airports in the country. It presently serves approximately two million passengers per year.

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