Takeoff Is Smooth For Jet Service

    MUSKEGON — The renewal of jet service at Muskegon County Airport recorded a fairly smooth takeoff in June, as ridership met early expectations.

    The early-morning and late-evening flights Northwest Airlines began serving with a 50-passenger jet recorded a 65 percent occupancy rate during the month, airport Manager Marty Piette said. That’s consistent with Northwest Airlines’ load factors prior to initiating jet service for one of its three daily round-trip flights between Muskegon and Detroit and “about what we would expect” at the onset, Piette said.

    “I think it’s going really well. We’re optimistic anyway,” he said. “It’s going well and we’re hoping it goes even better. The better it goes, the longer it stays.”

    Northwest Airlines agreed in April to use Canadair Regional Jets for the morning daily flight to Detroit and the evening flight back to Muskegon beginning on June 10. The CRJ jets, operated by Northwest Airlink, are larger and offer more amenities — overhead storage bins, a galley, lavatory and better climate controls — than the turbo-prop aircraft Northwest continues to use for its other two daily flights.

    The airline will serve Muskegon with a CRJ jet for at least six months and will continue its use or deploy additional jets as long as revenue targets and passenger volumes are met.

    Piette anticipates that Northwest’s load factors will increase during the summer months as people become more aware of the jet service and a related change in flight times that make it easier for business and leisure travelers to catch connecting flights at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport. The flight using jet service leaves Muskegon at 6:30 a.m. and returns at 11:15 p.m.

    “We’re absolutely satisfied we’re running at our historic levels at least. Now that we’re into our busy summer season, we would expect that to go up,” Piette said.

    Northwest Airlines’ decision returned jet service to Muskegon County Airport after a more than 20-year absence and comes as administrators are working to improve air service and increase passenger traffic.

    During the first six months of the year, total passenger traffic at the airport is running about even with 2003 levels. The airport served 31,205 passengers during the January-to-June period.

    Passenger traffic for June alone was up 9 percent from a year earlier, from 5,324 to 5,791.

    Northwest Airlines, by far the largest of the two commercial carriers serving Muskegon County Airport, recorded a 4 percent increase in June passenger traffic over a year ago, although loads for the year are down 7 percent, from 23,920 in 2003 to 22,239 this year.

    Piette attributes that year-to-date decrease for Northwest Airlines to a previous flight schedule that made it difficult for passengers to make connecting flights in Detroit.

    Midwest Airlines, which added a fourth daily commuter flight between Muskegon and Milwaukee in April, has seen large increases in passenger volumes this year: 30 percent for the year, from 6,643 in 2003 to 8,627 this year; and 26 percent for June alone.           

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