Saginaw Valley's MBS Hopes to Lure More Flights

The airport in the Saginaw Valley's backyard is working overtime to lure customers from the airport to its south.

The MBS International Airport Commission is trying to attract more carriers, expand popular flights and advertise more in its quest to compete with Flint's Bishop International Airport.

Last year, 408,549 people flew out of MBS in Freeland, while more than 1.09 million opted for Flint's terminal.

"What we need to do is combat the misperception that's out there" that Bishop always provides the cheaper airfare, Commissioner Brian K. Elder said.

First, the commission asked MBS's manager, Jeff Nagel, to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Small Community Air Service Development Program and use it to recruit more airlines beyond its current fare, Northwest Airlines and United Express.

Bishop has experienced a meteoric rise in traffic while passenger counts at MBS have remained stagnant in the past seven years, The Boyd Group, an Evergreen, Colo.-based consulting firm, said in a study it prepared for the commission. Increased business traffic from Detroit and its suburbs has brought more airlines to Flint, and the subsequent competition drove down airfare.

Competition among airlines is the key to Bishop's profits, and MBS needs to convince airlines that more competitive prices are in their best interest, Commissioner George J. Biltz said.

"We need to go to Northwest and say, 'We see these discrepancies; that's not good for you or for us,' " he said.

The commission also plans to hire a consultant to develop a list of 20 destinations that people head to from MBS, using traffic patterns and talking with travel agents to determine up-and-coming travel hot spots.

MBS officials will take that list to Northwest's corporate leaders to try to persuade them to reduce rates and restrictions for those destinations to a level comparable to fares at Bishop.

Further, the commission has laid plans to erect a $48.3 million 75,000-square-foot terminal at MBS to attract customers. Officials decided not to remodel the 40-year-old terminal because of the inconvenience it would create for travelers during construction.

The project has stalled, though, on negotiations with Ronald F. Krauss, a Tittabawassee Township retired farmer who owns 155 acres near the airport that MBS hopes to expand into.

In the final prong of the plan, the commission will seek a contract for a new ad campaign to promote the idea that MBS isn't always more expensive than Bishop. A new contract doesn't necessarily mean MBS will abandon its present ad agency, Holt Marketing Services Inc., 3075 Boardwalk in Saginaw Township, Nagel said.

Airport officials simply are seeking a fresh approach, he said.

"We don't have an issue with the current firm," Nagel said. "We just want to look at what's available to us."

Still, the commission needs to take care of how it spends its marketing budget, said Secretary Hollis H. McKeag.

"I would like to see a marketing ledger," he said. "We're spending a lot of money, and I would like to see what's being spent where."

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