Dayton Airport Competing for Passengers

The billboards are set against the greater Cincinnati-area skyline along Interstate 75, but their message is all Dayton.

"Closer than you think. Dayton International Airport. Easy to and through."

The Dayton airport is fighting back.

In 2005, about 20 percent of the passengers from Montgomery and surrounding counties chose an airport other than Dayton for their flights. Cincinnati grabbed the biggest share, according to JumpStart 2006, a report by the Dayton Air Service Development Team.

Dayton airport officials are working to lure them back. "If they give us an opportunity, we can prove to them that we can deliver," said Harvey Wortham, acting airport director.

Dayton had enjoyed a steady increase in passengers -- up 14 percent in 2003 and another 10 percent in 2004. The trend reversed in 2005, when Delta launched Simple Fares, lowering rates in Cincinnati.

In the first quarter of 2004, average domestic fares out of Dayton cost about $132.

Customers paid $58 more for similar flights out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, said Gene Conrad, air service team member.

"The Simple Fares and airline bankruptcies closed the gap," Wortham said. The result: Flights in and out of Dayton in the fourth quarter of 2005 were down 7 percent over the fourth quarter of 2004, and fares were up 18 percent. Dayton lost traffic to at least 10 major markets.

Currently, 13 airlines operate in Dayton, serving 19 destinations. "How do we make sure airlines grow and prosper?" asked Phil Parker, the president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, before the Dayton City Commission. "Billboards, radio, television, direct mail, newsprint -- we're doing a lot of advertising."

Wortham believes Dayton is an under-served market and the proof lies in full flights. About 81 percent of the seats on airlines serving Dayton were full in February.

Dayton has collected data -- on passengers, destinations and airports of similar sizes -- and is taking it to airlines to attract more service. Two airlines have listened.

On June 29, Frontier Airlines -- flying between Dayton and Denver -- switched from 70-seat regional airplanes to Airbuses carrying up to 132 passengers. And AirTran is adding a daily, direct flight to Atlanta starting Thursday.

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