Target: Air Carriers
Report from this year’s AAAE Air Service Conference
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
MILWAUKEE — Highlights from this year’s 6th annual National Air Service Conference, hosted here by the American Association of Airport Executives, include updates on successes some airports have had in attracting and keeping air carriers, and various marketing initiatives. In addition, attendees were offered information upgrades from United and AirTran, among others, about the pending United-U.S. Airways-American transactions and what the low fare carrier seeks from prospective airports.
This year’s conference featured both airport and airline representatives relating what it is they look for from each other in developing successful air service arrangements. Airports shared some things they do to help air carriers be successful in their markets, while airline reps offered insights into where they see their future market focuses. Both sides emphasized the need for a partnering relationship for ensuring success.
From the Airports
Kristie Van Auken, director of marketing for Akron-Canton (OH) Regional Airport, says that to lure an air carrier to serve a market takes both money and a commitment from the airport sponsor, the community, and local businesses.
Tara Smith, manager of air service development for Kansas City Inter-national Airport, says that it’s important that officials outline in detail what’s going on in the host city, because airlines in general will no be familiar with local demographics or market potential. Such information should include types of businesses, their destination needs and desires, and leakage to other airports in the region.
Echoes Paul Toth, Jr, airport director for Toledo (OH) Express Airport, "The most important thing is to know your market when going to an airline." He adds that airports need to consider the potential impact on incumbent carriers to avoid a situation in which adding service from a new carrier is merely taking market away from one already serving the airport.
That said, Toth adds that a new carrier may be bringing an ability to serve a larger market than an incumbent carrier wishes to serve. At Toledo, for example, Toth says he went to AirTran for service to Atlanta because he knew that the incumbent, Delta, did not want to commit more resources to his market even though research showed there was more customer demand than was being met.
Toth adds that he approaches potential new entrants with a full marketing plan already laid out. And, relating what other airport officials here stated, he makes sure the airport follows through with what it originally said it would do to help air service to his market succeed.
Pat Corfman, director of marketing for the Flint (MI) Airport, says an open channel of communications between airport and airline is essential. "Keep in touch," she says, "they rarely let you know before they pull the plug." In addition, high load factors may lure an airport into a false sense of market security, confident the airline is happy with the market. However, it may not be achieving the market yield (dollars per passenger) it needs to sustain service.
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Akron-Canton Airport's future with Southwest Airlines is still strong, despite the low-fare carrier ending its Chicago Midway International Airport service in November, an airport official said.
On Tuesday, Delta Air Lines said it would begin a nonstop daily flight from Akron to Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 15.
The airline will be the first national network carrier to serve the new airport when it opens in May 2009.