Each year, we continue to court air service to new destinations from Flagstaff. We are as eager as our community and business partners to see additional air service to markets such as Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver or the Bay Area. The issue is that this is no easy task. Consolidation in the airline world has reduced the viable carriers that could serve are market. This is not new to the industry, but from time to time the consolidation reaches a point that it negatively impacts the flying public’s choices.
We are called a leisure market in the airline world. More people fly to and from Flagstaff for pleasure than for business. Many of our business partners will tell you it is about connectivity and right now they cannot always connect to their destination in a timely manner. Airlines for the most part look to the major markets and the business flyer first to expand. Therefore, our work is harder to find new air service carriers with the right destinations.
Monthly, we discuss service with several airlines and always ask how we can help them with any obstacles keeping them from entering our market. One of the key things going for us is our marketing approach. Every meeting, we show them how we can market their service and assure them that seats will be filled. The efforts of our Convention and Visitors Bureau to market Flagstaff as a premier travel destination have proven to be well received in our conversations. We have also begun a local airport campaign reminding our community to “Always Fly Flagstaff First.” When new service plans to come to Flagstaff, we will market before, during and after to fill seats. Filling a certain amount of seats on each route is vital for an airline to be profitable or they will leave that market. This is much like the Buy Local mantra. When you choose to buy in Phoenix instead of Flagstaff, it has a negative impact on our local businesses, choosing to drive to Phoenix instead of flying with our existing service has the same impact. Buying local is not just a slogan; it is critical to our local economy. Passenger counts have gone up and down in the last five years. The airlines know that 80 percent of our local market continues to drive to the Valley and this is not encouraging when trying to attract additional service.
We will continue to court new service partners. Though new service has not begun, there are changes in the near future. When American Airlines merged with US Airways, they inherited a 50-seat aircraft in markets like ours. This aircraft has limitations at our altitude and often has to reduce loads during our busy season. Over the next few years, American Airlines will begin replacing these 50-seat aircraft with a more capable 70-seat model. This aircraft gives American Airlines more options and should diminish the need for reducing the load during peak seasons.
With the larger aircraft, we anticipate increased passenger counts in the terminal. We have begun some small facility changes in the terminal such as ticket kiosks to help the public. We are also beginning an Airport Master Plan this year, which focuses on growth to match the need of the future. The terminal will have to change, but we are looking for gradual change to reduce costs.
Along with the changes to handle larger passenger counts, we have begun some aesthetic changes. New artwork was introduced on the terminal walls, which are more visible from the second floor of the terminal and represent the things to do in northern Arizona. A television has been added to the gate hold, updated WiFi, and a visitor kiosk center for easy access to visitor information. In the works are a water bottle refill station and the replacement of our aging terminal carpet. And finally, our Air Café terminal restaurant has been remodeling and adding new items such as Rita’s Ice and Starbucks Coffee.
Many other changes are not as visible to the public. The instrument guidance systems for pilots have been changed to help in more extreme weather conditions. Paving is coming both to the runways as well as to Pulliam Drive. Pulliam Drive is on the schedule for this summer, but many other projects are in the works for the next few years.
With new development plans at Fort Tuthill, we anticipate additional changes in the area overall and an increased awareness for our side of town. We hope to see new businesses near the airport in the near future that we believe will kick start additional growth. We encourage you to Always Fly Flagstaff First and to Always Buy Local. FBN
By Barney Helmick
Barney Helmick is the Flagstaff Airport director.