Government and Travel & Tourism

Ford airport traffic dips

February 26, 2014
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Ford airport flies nonstop to D.C. via United Airlines
United Airlines and United Express operate an average of 5,820 flights a day to 373 airports on six continents. Photo via fb.com

Both enplaned and deplaned passenger numbers were down in January at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

The Kent County Department of Aeronautics Aviation Activity Report for the month indicated the number of enplaned passengers was down 1.82 percent compared to January 2013, while deplaned passengers were down by 3.58 percent.

Seasonal drop

GFIA Executive Director Brian Ryks said the numbers are simply a result of a harsh winter.

Ryks said scheduled seats were actually up 4.6 percent in January, which has been the case for the airport ever since Southwest began operations in August.

Ryks is expecting similar enplaned and deplaned numbers for February, also due to the continued bad weather.

He noted that other airports’ numbers tell the same story. He said Lansing is down 16.5 percent, Saginaw is down 9.8 percent and Kalamazoo is down 18.8 percent. Muskegon and Traverse City airport numbers are also down for January, he said.

Detroit and Flint numbers have not been reported yet, but Ryks expects they will also be down.

Because several Grand Rapids flights fly through hubs like Chicago and Atlanta, weather doesn’t have to be bad in Michigan to impact enplanements and deplanements.

This winter, the South and East Coast also experienced debilitating winters that have caused significant flight cancelations.

Capacity and funding

Ryks said because of the Passenger Bill of Rights passed a few years ago by Congress, which limits the amount of time passengers can be held on an airplane, more airlines are canceling flights sooner than they might have in the past.

“The key for us is to ensure that seat capacity remains at or above last year,” Ryks said.

He expects that will be the case moving forward this year.

The airport does receive a portion of its funding — about $4.5 million — based on passenger enplanements, so it is important for the airport to maintain its approximately 2.2-million-passenger volume annually.

A substantial drop off in enplanements could result in decreased funding, but Ryks said a couple of bad months won’t put airport federal funding in jeopardy.

Winter costs

Ryks also said inclement weather this year has led to more expenses for overtime and fuel.

He said two crews are used to ensure 24-hour maintenance of runways, and large equipment is used to clear snow and ice from runways quickly, which eats up fuel, and fuel consumption is much higher this winter than is typical.

Ryks noted he's proud of the work the crews are doing to keep runways clear and safe.

“I would just say they do a fantastic job,” he said.

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