Travel Effort Helping Muskegon Airport

June 9, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Backers of an initiative designed to increase passenger traffic at Muskegon County Airport and lure jet service believe they’ve laid a solid foundation for the effort.

Nearly 40 companies in the area have already committed to at least considering Muskegon County Airport for employee business travel. Now organizers of the Fly Muskegon campaign need to pursue those pledges with additional one-on-one contacts to assure they translate into actual increased usage of the airport.

“The outreach has to continue,” said Rich Robinson, the managing partner of the accounting firm Conn Geneva & Robinson in Norton Shores. He chairs a task force of business leaders working to generate increased passenger traffic at the airport.

The goal of the initiative, spearheaded by the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, is to help Muskegon County Airport increase passenger volumes to the point where airlines, as they replace turbo-prop planes with jet-powered aircraft in the coming years, will implement commuter jet service locally. Fly Muskegon organizers say Muskegon County Airport needs to position itself now for the coming changes in order to get jet service, maintain current flight schedules and add new routes.

With about 60 percent of Muskegon County Airport’s passenger volume coming from business travelers, organizers are targeting the business community for help.

The task force hopes to secure commitments from 100 companies to use Muskegon County Airport more frequently for business travel. The airport, with service to regional air hubs in Detroit and Milwaukee, promotes itself as offering greater convenience for air travelers in lakeshore communities than Kent County’s Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

The Chamber of Commerce in Grand Haven has joined the Muskegon Area Chamber in the effort, which has drawn commitments from many companies in northwestern Ottawa County.

The effort also seeks to convince Northwest Airlines, Muskegon County Airport’s largest carrier, to expand service between Muskegon and Detroit and add a new route to Minneapolis.

Early results show that Northwest Airlines, which carries about 80 percent of the airport’s passenger traffic, is seeing an uptick in business.

Northwest’s flights in May were at 62 percent capacity and at 65 percent in April, when the campaign began. That compares with a capacity of 53 percent in both March and February and 47 percent in January.

“Early indications are that’s it’s working,” said Dianne Hoofman, air travel marketing consultant at Muskegon County Airport.

Northwest Airlines has indicated to the airport that it needs a consistent 65 percent average load on its flights before considering jet service at Muskegon County Airport, Hoofman said. Based on the early results, Hoofman is confident the airport will reach that mark.

“It’s going to work. We are going to get to a point where we are to 65 percent or above consistently,” she said.               

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