Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 20, 2012

Forum: Demise of airport an economic reality

The Oct. 11 Record-Eagle editorial cheerleading for Manistee Blacker Airport's service fits perfectly into this political season as it demonstrates a lack of understanding, ignores basic common sense, and is reckless with the facts and the taxpayers' dollars.

First, very significantly, there is no mention of the current federal Essential Air Service subsidy of $2,143,294 delivered annually from taxpayers to secure service and bring prices down in Manistee.

This is the 1979 act passed to ease the transition of smaller airports into the deregulated environment. It was intended to end in 1989. Manistee is just one example (Escanaba, Muskegon, Ironwood, and other Michigan airports among them) of many ill-conceived efforts to maintain air service where the market simply cannot support it.

I read, "Blacker's problem, though, is that while it has a good idea and a good location, it can't seem to find a carrier who can do enough business to stay in the air ..." The logical conclusion: There is no carrier who can do enough business.

Multiple service providers have taken the subsidy for services they provided, enjoyed it, and then departed, citing the fact they could not make the economics work. I'm baffled by your editorial comment that "Blacker can't seem to catch a break." They've caught and spent millions, and millions, and millions of them.

The "revolving door" of carriers you note at Blacker is the result of that economic reality. This latest Public Charter-ADI slapdash effort offering solely Midway service with no thru-fare, no thru baggage check, no published connections, was destined to fail from its inception.

Of course, it's difficult for politicians of any stripe to acknowledge that and shut off the spigot ... and, after all, it's only $2 million or so. And it is an election year — the focus is on trumpeting the cutting of "waste" and "pork"... but, of course, the actual hatchets are silent.

When you note, "The folks at Manistee's Blacker Airport have a great idea" are you referring to their plan to continue to spend taxpayer money on service to an airstrip that boarded 11,101 passengers last year and 2,364 through August? Do the math. How much is that per passenger?

Manistee is a beautiful community situated an hour's drive from Cherry Capital Airport. American, Delta, and United (the three largest worldwide carriers and each a member of one of the three major worldwide alliances) all offer service at Cherry Capital.

That's significant access to the nation's and world's air system. Airlines are increasingly looking at consolidating services into a given region as they continue to "rightsize" them. That certainly poses challenges for schedules, fares, and more, but fracturing demand in this environment is a very poor and costly option.

Conversely, more demand at Cherry Capital can mean more flights resulting in more seats ... and more low-fare seats come with them. Bottom line — Cherry Capital is the airport partner for Manistee and the carriers there today and tomorrow are its partners for business and leisure travel.

About the author: Tom Rockne is retained by Cherry Capital Airport as a consultant on airline service retention and expansion. He lives in Leelanau County and is a 36-year travel industry veteran. He is the principal at Tom Rockne Travel Resources.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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