A good time to look at new expertise

September 28, 2008
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The Kent County Aeronautics Board authorized staff at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Wednesday to initiate a request for qualifications process for an air service consultant to assist in marketing the airport to the airlines. 

Seabury Airline Planning Group has been providing Ford International with air service retention and recruitment consulting for nearly five years and its contract has been extended a number of times during that period, said Phillip Johnson, deputy aeronautics director. Seabury’s contract expires in December, and airport staff believes it’s time to look around and see what other consulting firms might have to offer.

“Seabury’s performance has been absolutely spectacular,” Johnson told the board. “It has brought this airport into the game of air service retention and recruitment and has done a good job in getting our story out there and working with us and the airlines.”

Johnson stressed that the call for request for qualifications doesn’t have anything to do with Seabury’s performance and that Seabury plans to submit its qualifications. Rather, he said, the request has to do with the airport’s own long-held philosophy that it’s prudent to periodically assure that it’s getting the best service available.

“The times we’re living in right now in the air service arena are very, very difficult and something we’ve not seen in many years, with the fuel costs we’re struggling with and the air service reductions that are affecting all airports,” Johnson said. “We thought it was a very good time to go out and do a qualifications process and see what ideas and expertise is out there.” 

Board Vice Chairman Thomas O’Hare asked Johnson if there is a competitive field for air service consultants at this time and whether he anticipates a lot of response to the request for qualifications. Johnson answered “yes” to both questions.

Johnson said airport staff is in touch with a number of firms, and that there are about 10 firms the staff has identified that do this type of work. He  has had contact with the principals of three or four of them at various meetings over the last six months, he said, and they all were very interested in working with Ford International.

“We will do our vetting not only with our peer airports but anyone else that can offer us assistance in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of any qualified firms that submit a request and their success or lack of success,” Johnson said.

“Each community and airport that these firms work with are different: Their needs and desires are different, and their ability to attract an airline is different, so we have to weigh that, as well, and understand that because a firm has been successful in one community, it may not necessarily be successful here.”

The Aeronautical, Facilities & Marketing Committee will recommend approval of a firm and an agreement on Nov. 11, and on Nov. 26 the recommendation will go before the board.

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