Little Rock Taps Consultant to Tackle Passenger Decline

With its passenger totals stagnating in recent years, Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field, has turned to a consultant in hopes of stabilizing and possibly expanding service.

Passenger numbers at the airport have been in a virtual holding pattern since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and dipped a bit in 2006 due to a reduced number of flights from financially troubled airlines.

The airport commission signed a contract earlier this month with Mead & Hunt Inc., a Madison, Wis.-based firm.

Joseph Pickering, a senior consultant with the firm's Aviation Business Services in its Peachtree City, Ga., office, used to be one of the officers at Delta Air Lines who decided when and where to add flights.

Phillip Launius, a spokesman for the airport, said, "It's an ultra-competitive business. [Mead & Hunt] knows the talk, they know what needs to be presented to the airlines, and we just need every edge we can get." The first phase of the study is getting under way, Pickering said. At a cost of $10,000, the firm will determine passenger "leakage" and needs.

"We really let the data tell us where we need to go," Pickering said. "What markets are underserved? Where do people want to travel? We're just laying out the strategic plan. The data will drive us where we go next." If, for example, data suggest the need to add direct service to Washington Dulles Airport, Pickering said, a team would set up a meeting with the airline. Airlines usually make a decision within three to six months but sometimes take as long as two years, he said.

"It's typically a pretty long lead time," he said.

The study will look at the possibility of adding a nonstop destination on the West Coast - perhaps Los Angeles. Also, it will evaluate whether the airport is losing passengers to nearby airports, such as Memphis International Airport.

Another assumption going into the study is that American Airlines might be approached to resume using larger jets in addition to its regional jet service offered since 2002. Bringing aboard a new airline, such as Airtran, might be another goal.

"We've already looked at the service levels - where people are going and what might make sense," Pickering said.

One of his early hunches was that Frontier Airline needed to add a flight to Denver, Pickering said. Frontier announced Friday that it will add a third daily nonstop flight to Denver on April 15.

Frontier operates routes linking its Denver hub to 55 destinations, and it also partners with Airtran to offer lower prices. The airline started servicing Little Rock in October 2004.

The consulting firm has about 80 clients nationwide, Pickering said. Recent successes in luring service to those markets include an addition of a direct flight from Madison, Wis., to Atlanta in December 2005, and the addition of a flight from Modesto, Calif., to Los Angeles last June - both taking about six month from the start of talks with airlines to the boarding of passengers.

This article was published 01/27/2007



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