Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane...from Grand Forks?

"North Dakota hits 10-year high passenger count in August"

USA Today - Oct. 5/09

"The number of passengers boarding flights this August at North Dakota's eight commercial airports hit a 10-year high for that month, according to The Associated Press. And the state owes a big thanks to leisure carrier Allegiant Air for helping it hit that high-water mark, according to the Minot (N.D.) Daily News. Larry Taborsky, director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, tells the paper that Allegiant's new service and discount fares to Las Vegas and Phoenix-Mesa are helping to drive the state's passenger increase.

At Grand Forks International, for example, airport director Patrick Dame credits Allegiant Air's presence for helping send passenger traffic up 22%. "The airline's flight to Las Vegas has boosted passenger numbers from Canada, Minnesota and north central North Dakota, he said. Allegiant's plan to add a flight to Phoenix in November is expected to attract even more passengers," the paper writes.

Airport officials at Fargo's Hector International say Allegiant has helped stimulate traffic there, as well. And in the state capital, officials at Bismarck City Airport say increased service by United and Delta has helped keep passenger totals on the rise during August. Allegiant also flies to Bismarck, where airport officials say the carrier filled more than 90% of its seats in August despite that being a "slow" month for the airline.

This morning (Oct. 6) , USA Today had more on the topic but from the Winnipeg perspective:

The latest state to poach Canadian fliers: North Dakota

Add North Dakota to the list of U.S. border states where airports are poaching fliers from more expensive airports in Canada. The Winnipeg Free Press writes "Winnipeg's Richardson International Airport is getting some unlikely competition from its puny siblings in North Dakota, in a battle that's giving Manitobans -- and other Canadians living in cities all along the border -- cut-rate fares to sunshine destinations and elsewhere."

The Free Press adds the "Winnipeg Airports Authority says it's starting to feel the effect of the growing trickle of Manitobans heading to Grand Forks and Fargo to take advantage of low-cost airfares to places like Las Vegas and Orlando for half the cost of the same flight from Winnipeg." The arrival of discount carrier Allegiant Air to Grand Forks and other North Dakota airports has been cited as a particularly big draw for Canadian fliers.

The price differences can be dramatic. An Oct. 5 search for a Feb. 4-7 itinerary from Grand Rapids to Las Vegas found fares of about US$239 from Grand Rapids. From Winnipeg, the cost jumped to about US$686. That, as your might expect, has caught the attention of airport officials at Winnipeg.

"Grand Forks is on our radar screen for all the wrong reasons," Barry Rempel, CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority, tells the Free Press. "Where possible, we should be coordinating in the region and doing things jointly. The unfortunate part is that it is extremely difficult when carriers that probably should be directly accessing a marketplace like Winnipeg, choose a market like Grand Forks."

Rempel, who also happens to be the chairman of the Canadian Airports Council (CAC), points the finger at the Canadian system of managing airports. In Canada, much more of the cost of building and maintaining airports is borne by independent airport authorities, and the costs are almost always passed directly on to the consumer in the form of taxes and fees.

In one example, the Free Press notes most Canadian airports must pay rent to the federal government. Despite that, airports still are responsible for operating costs and most capital costs. The Free Press writes Rempel "said (the CAC) has been hammering the federal government for some time for changes to the airport-management structure." He tells the paper "it is just not a level playing field" between U.S. and Canadian airports.

Interesting, interesting...Grand Forks (metropolitan pop. ~100,000) upstaging Winnipeg (pop. ~650,0000) in the battle to get airline passengers. Allegiant running ads in the Winnipeg Free Press advertising their seats sales out of Grand Forks to Las Vegas and soon Phoenix. WestJet and Air Canada must be seriously annoyed...watching all those Canadian travelers making a run to the border at Emerson, followed by a stop at Target, and then on to the airport for their flights to warmer destinations.

I'm thinking that there just might be some really good deals available out of Winnipeg in the very near future.

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