MUSKEGON — Armed with data that shows the potential to double the number of passengers it serves annually, Muskegon County Airport hopes to lure a growing number of air travelers to use the facility and convince airlines to bring jet service to the market in the near future.
The new study provides airport administrators further and, for the first time, detailed data that the facility, even after experiencing steady growth for the past several years, stands to gain a significantly greater share of the local market for business and leisure air travelers.
The study of ticket purchases made last summer shows the airport with a 25.3 percent market share within its main four-county service area. It concludes that the airport could “reasonably expect” to capture a minimum 50 percent share of the existing market simply through greater awareness and service enhancements.
“Our airport is very underutilized and there’s tremendous opportunity to attract significantly more travelers to our market,” Airport Director Terry Grevious said. “This is not a rose-colored-glasses scenario. These are passengers who are constantly utilizing air services — just not at our airport.”
Muskegon County Airport presently offers 22 flights daily via commuter-plane service to and from major airline hubs: Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare and Milwaukee. The airport last year served 85,820 passengers, up 19 percent from the year earlier. February volumes were up 39 percent alone from the same period in 2001.
The airport’s location, combined with competitor Gerald R. Ford International Airport’s distance from lakeshore markets, positions Muskegon County to take away market share, the study said. It estimates Muskegon County Airport’s “true market” at more than 189,000 passengers annually.
“Our market’s right here and we don’t even have to go out and find them 30 miles away,” said Diane Hoofman, an air travel marketing consultant for the airport.
The study, conducted by Sixel Consulting Group Inc. of Eugene, Ore., looked at a sample of airline ticket sales during June, July and August from 15 travel agents within the airport’s core market of Muskegon, northern Ottawa, Newaygo and Oceana counties.
Airport administrators for years have worked to build more awareness among local air travelers, promoting the county-owned facility as offering greater convenience than Gerald R. Ford International Airport through its service to key national airline hubs and competitive pricing. Yet three out of every four air travelers within its service area still fly out of the Grand Rapids airport, a clear indication that Muskegon still needs to do much more to promote itself.
Public awareness remains a significant challenge for Muskegon County Airport, Hoofman said. The goal is to get air travelers locally to automatically think about Muskegon County when they begin planning a trip, she said.
“Everything centers around creating an awareness because many times people don’t even think of Muskegon,” Hoofman said.
Grevious plans to use the data generated through the study in upcoming pitches to airlines presently serving the airport — United Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Midwest Express — to initiate jet service in Muskegon County. If successful in that initiative, the airport would then seek to secure agreements for new destinations and routes and attract additional airlines to serve Muskegon County.
Those efforts would further help the airport to secure additional market share, although Grevious says the goal is not to handle every air traveler in the region.
“We’re not going to be the biggest airport in the region, nor the busiest. But we can have a high quality, convenient operation here on the lakeshore that we feel a lot of people are going to want and use,” Grevious said.