Community Air Service Management
Today, it is a ghost town. Oh, main street is still there as it was, but all the buildings are vacant; everything is gone, along with at least 50 percent of the population.
If an outsider were to ask longtime residents what happened, you would hear numerous reasons (excuses) for the town’s demise, generally centered on the “economy.” But insiders know the truths that the residents refuse to admit. The businesses in the town disappeared because the residents began driving 20 miles to the neighboring city for everything. Over time the lack of local spending forced the stores to close. As the business base declined and people started migrating to the larger city, the banks and the schools closed. This is their epitaph.
This story unfortunately has been repeated in many small towns throughout the United States. But now it is beginning to be experienced in the larger communities, and mid-Michigan is not exempt. There may be many examples of this erosion, but let’s consider the regional evolution of essential airline services. Airline services out of mid-Michigan declined 59 percent since 2005 principally due to airline bankruptcies and mergers that literally shrunk national air service availability. Correspondingly, passenger usage of the region’s airport declined as well.
This decline has forced many mid-Michigan travelers to meet their travel needs at other Michigan communities. In response to this erosion, however, the airport authority has pressed the current airlines for a return of historic service on travelers’ behalf. As a result, the authority is confident that the region’s air service decline has hit bottom and the region is positioned for resurgence in essential air services.
What gives the airport authority the confidence to make such a claim? The airport authority follows a community air service management process for air service development that involves three development steps. First, the authority defines community air service needs through detailed research. Second, the authority shares the results of this research with the airlines and solicits changes to, or the addition of, air service necessary to meet defined traveler needs. The third step in the process is for the authority to solicit regional community support for the new or modified airline services. Today, the mid-Michigan community is at step three in the process (community support).
Generally speaking, the airlines have been responsive to airport authority requests on behalf of the region. Over the past 12 months the authority has demonstrated the need for expanded Delta flights schedules. We pointed out that Delta’s five flights to Detroit and no flights to Minneapolis, as Delta had scheduled last year, provided inadequate connections, and lengthy connecting times at Delta’s hubs. Our research demonstrated that there were issues with the pricing of Delta’s services out of mid-Michigan. The combination of schedule, schedule reliability and pricing disparities was forcing travelers to use other Michigan airports (called leakage) to the detriment of the mid-Michigan economy.
Delta responded by returning their flight schedule to eight flights daily to and from Detroit, ensuring that there was one Lansing flight connecting with each of Detroit’s eight arrival and departure banks. Connecting times between flights at the Detroit hub are now only about 40 minutes. Delta also returned one flight daily to and from Minneapolis to the flight schedule, with the promise of consideration for additional flights in the future if regional travel warrants the increase. Additionally, Delta validated authority research with their own leakage and pricing research—and concluded that there were indeed discrepancies. Delta is in the process of adjusting airfares out of mid-Michigan to ensure that they are competitive with other Michigan communities.
Another regional community air service request has been for the return of the Florida and Las Vegas service that was discontinued in 2009. Applying the community air service management formula noted above, the airport authority successfully recruited Sun Country Airlines to return service to Orlando, Ft. Myers, and Las Vegas beginning in December 2010. Again, the region is at step three of the development process (community support) with these service destinations as well. Further, as an added bonus, the authority was able to leverage the Sun Country commitment to Florida and Las Vegas by stimulating a significant expansion of the region’s international service to Cancun, Mexico (four flights weekly), and the addition of new service to Jamaica (one flight weekly) in cooperation with AppleVacations. Tickets are on sale today at www.FlyLansing.com or regional travel agents.
The mid-Michigan region is at a critical crossroads in economic development. All of the airport authority’s success, and the airline service commitments to mid-Michigan, will be meaningless without regional traveler use of the airline services provided on their behalf. The airport authority cannot retain regional airline services if regional travelers fail to dedicate themselves to spending their travel dollars locally. Again, as with my hometown, each time an individual traveler and a regional business decides to purchase services in another community they contribute to the erosion of services in mid-Michigan. Also, as with my home town, there are no second chances or valid excuses. Community support for regional airline services is essential to the economic viability of our region.
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Robert F. Selig is the executive director of Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport.