Optimistic About Landing Jet Service

    MUSKEGON — Passenger jets could begin landing at Muskegon County Airport next year, if the airport’s largest carrier makes good on a promise and offers to upgrade service.

    Airport representatives last week received a commitment that Northwest Airlines would by the end of the year offer a proposal to commence jet service at Muskegon County Airport, which is now served by turbo-prop aircraft.

    Landing jet service would represent a major step forward in a broader strategic initiative to increase Muskegon County Airport’s passenger traffic, service, carriers and destinations.

    “It’s just the start of things,” airport Manager Marty Piette said. “We’re making that first step.”

    The hope is that even getting a single flight daily with a jet from Northwest, which flies three round-trip flights daily between Muskegon and the airline’s hub in Detroit, would eventually snowball into something bigger.

    If successful with a single jet, Northwest may add more jets and help to lure more air travelers to use Muskegon County Airport.

    Increasing passenger traffic could also help convince Muskegon County Airport’s other passenger carrier, Midwest Airlines, which flies between Muskegon and Milwaukee, to commence regional jet service. That would lead to further increases in passenger traffic, which ultimately could result in additional airlines serving Muskegon County Airport and flying to other destinations.

    “I just think it’s the start of something great,” said Diane Hoofman, the airport’s air travel marketing consultant. “It could be big.”

    The airport would like to see passenger service initiated to Minneapolis and restoration of service to Chicago, which ended more than a year ago when the financially beleaguered Great Lakes Airlines pulled put of Muskegon.

    A marketing analysis conducted in early 2002 found the airport with a 25.3 percent market share within its main four-county service area. The analysis concluded that the airport could “reasonably expect” to capture a minimum 50 percent share of the existing lakeshore market simply through greater awareness and service enhancements such as jets.

    A subsequent campaign launched earlier this year, known as Fly Muskegon and spearheaded by the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, urged businesses in the area to consider using Muskegon County Airport more frequently for business travel, which helped to increase Northwest’s average passenger load per flight.

    After a meeting with Northwest representatives last week in Minneapolis, Minn., airport administrators are more confident than ever about the prospect of landing jet service beginning in 2004.

    “If things continue the way they’re going right now, we’ll have it,” Hoofman said.

    Helping Muskegon’s cause to lure jet service is a $500,000 grant received in September from the Federal Aviation Administration that would go toward assuring Northwest an initial minimum level of revenue on its Muskegon flights as the business builds. Northwest’s flights at Muskegon County Airport also are profitable, Hoofman said.

    Thought optimistic jet service could begin as early as the spring, Piette cautioned that any arrangement needs to meet the airlines’ criteria for passenger volumes and profitability. So far, Piette said, things “look good.”

    “Based on our initial meeting, it looks like it will be doable on both ends,” he said.                       

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