GRAND RAPIDS — Bruce Schedlbauer, marketing and com-munications manager for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, told the Convention and Arena Authority that it will likely be two years before air travel in the nation returns to the pre-Sept. 11 level.
But he said that business has gone fairly well at the local airport since the terrorist attacks, and it looks even better when GFIA is compared to other airports.
Schedlbauer said that a dozen airlines now provide non-stop service to 14 destinations. Before the attacks, flights to 15 non-stop cities were offered from the airport. But since then, Washington, D.C., has been temporarily removed from that list.
“There are positive indications, though, that in the not-too-distant future we’ll see the return of non-stop service between Grand Rapids and Washington, D.C.,” he said.
Each day 150 flights arrive at and depart from GFIA. That figure is down 10 percent from last September, but is still better than carrier volumes at other airports.
“That number does compare favorably to some national figures that show a number of airports across the country have seen anywhere from a 15 to 20 percent loss across their total flight number,” said Schedlbauer.
Schedlbauer then named four airlines that recently added daily flights at the airport. Delta Connection added a fourth daily departure to Atlanta, American Connection added a fifth to St. Louis, Northwest added a ninth to Detroit along with another to Minneapolis, and U.S. Air added flights to Pittsburgh. He added that many of the regional airlines at the airport have converted from props to jets.
“The percent of passengers flying aboard jet aircraft in and out of the Gerald Ford airport has increased from 75 percent just a couple of years ago,” he said, “to currently 90 percent of passengers flying aboard jet aircraft.
“That certainly is not to imply that turbo-prop service is undesirable. In fact, a couple of the markets that are served by turbo-prop aircraft probably would lose those markets if it wasn’t for turbo-prop aircraft, just because those markets can’t support jet aircraft.”
Schedlbauer then told CAA members that a recent study of airfares across Michigan done by a Minneapolis consultant showed that roundtrip ticket prices at GFIA were from $35 to $100 less than prices at other airports, including Capital City in Lansing.
The data revealed that the average roundtrip cost to 10 U.S. markets, including Chicago, was $203 from Lansing, $168 from Flint and $164 from Grand Rapids.
“So it showed that airfares out of Grand Rapids are quite competitive when compared to fares from those other Michigan airports,” said Schedlbauer.
Passenger traffic was down only 4 percent last year from 2000, as 1.83 million either left from or came to the airport. In 2000, slightly more than 1.9 million did the same.
Airport executives have been meeting with their counterparts from the airlines to discuss continuing services and possibly adding more airlines to the GFIA roster. Schedlbauer said it usually takes a few years of talks in order to land a new carrier.
He added that the airport was getting help in those discussions from The Right Place Program, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau and corporate partners like Steelcase Inc.
Schedlbauer also said that the airport’s plan to build a parking ramp has been put on hold until all the new security measures are in place and the project’s financing can be secured.