Mark Sixel, an aviation consultant from Eugene, Ore., is betting that he can bring new air service to Duluth in the next two years. If he's right, he'll get paid. If he's wrong, he won't.
Those are the basic terms of Sixel's recent agreement with the Duluth Airport Authority.
Should he succeed in bringing a new carrier into Duluth, Sixel would receive a $2 payment from the authority for every passenger who uses the service. His maximum compensation would be capped at $80,000 for two years.
"This way, my interests are aligned with Duluth's," Sixel said.
Regardless of his success, Sixel will be paid for a few incidentals, including travel and expenses, plus about $1,500 for quarterly reports analyzing the airport's performance. Sixel said he'll swallow the more expensive cost of other services in hopes of a payoff, assuming he recruits a new carrier.
"I don't know of any other consultant who uses this approach," said Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority.
Unorthodox as Sixel may be, Ryks noted that Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D., have entered similar agreements with Sixel and report positive results.
Mike Marnich, executive director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, credits Sixel for getting America West Airlines to launch service to Phoenix. He believes that service has helped drive fares lower and airport traffic up. Sioux Falls recently renewed its contract with Sixel for another two years.
"I believe he is one of the most reputable and credible consultants out there," said Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of Hector International Airport in Fargo.
Sixel is in the second year of his contract with Fargo. He recruited Allegiant Air to the airport, which now offers service to Las Vegas.
Dobberstein believes new service announcements could be forthcoming in Fargo shortly, although he declined to discuss specifics.
Sixel also entered into a similar recruitment agreement with Natrona County International Airport in Casper, Wyo., three years ago. He persuaded Northwest Airlines to establish the first year-round commercial jet service in the state.
Can Sixel pull off similar feats in Duluth? He thinks so.
"I usually pick one community per year to partner with in this way, and I approached Duluth because I think it has strong potential for growth," said Sixel, whose more traditional clients pay him on a fee-for-service basis.
The consultant said he was impressed with the Northland's strong business community, its increasingly diversified economy and the demonstrated willingness to support new carriers entering the market. He cited the ability of American Eagle to sell tickets during its brief experiment with service between Duluth and Chicago in 2004.
Ryks said Duluth also should be an attractive market to prospective carriers because it traditionally has yielded above-average profits.
At present, two airlines provide service to Duluth: Northwest Airlines, which offers daily flights to the Twin Cities and Detroit; and Allegiant Air, which flies twice weekly to Las Vegas.
Sixel said he'll concentrate his efforts on finding an airline that's truly a good fit.
"We can't go after a fly-by-night operation," he said. "We need to find an airline that's committed to the community with staying power. We also need someone who can stand toe to toe with Northwest."
Sixel said he recognizes that recruiting such an airline probably won't be easy. He said that even as carriers restructure and improve efficiency, they're being confronted by fuel prices that have doubled in the past year.
Ryks said Duluth can ill afford to sit by idly, however.
"Our Airport Authority recognizes that it needs to continually invest in developing its air service," he said. "This is a way to make that investment without having to front a lot of money, not knowing if we're going to get results."
Mark Sixel, an aviation consultant from Eugene, Ore., is betting that he can bring new air service to Duluth in the next two years.
Allegiant Air will launch twice-a-week nonstop air service between Duluth and Las Vegas on Jan. 11.
Oct. 23--Midwest Airlines announced Monday that it will discontinue all service to Duluth as of Dec. 1 -- nine months after the carrier began offering daily flights to its hub in Milwaukee...
Allegiant Air has built its business by offering direct flights to Las Vegas and, to a lesser extent, Orlando, Fla.