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Flagstaff Looking to Land Airline

Stacey Button Airline Airport Logo 

Citing innovate businesses, a flourishing university, thriving tourism industry and globally connected professionals, the City of Flagstaff and community partners are waving in a second airline to do business here and offering a pre-flight bonus of more than three-quarters of a million dollars as a grant to assist with recruitment and start-up costs.

In a video presentation for airline executives, Flagstaff Pulliam Airport Director Barney Helmick says, “We’re the city of innovation and we invite you to do business with us at a higher elevation. In support of your partnership, the city of Flagstaff is prepared to offer $800,000 to your airline if you come to Flagstaff.”

The effort to attract a second air service provider at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport has included 18 presentations to airlines since February. Passenger Demand Analysis studies by Mead & Hunt, Inc. showed that only 18 percent of air travelers from Northern Arizona currently utilize the local airport while 82 percent continue to make the drive to and from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The study proved a need for a second airline to increase connectivity from Pulliam to additional destinations for those presently driving to connect to those flights.

A team headed by City of Flagstaff Economic Vitality Director Stacey Button and including Helmick has attended three major conferences to meet with airlines and discuss their interest in operating at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport.

“At the conferences we got one-on-one face time with each airline. It is an efficient and effective mode for municipalities and airlines to be at the same place at the same time,” said Button describing the conference circuit. “We met for 15 to 30 minutes each with the route planner, senior analyst or network director for the airline.”

“At the first conference we asked for checklists of what the airlines were looking for in a new destination,” explained Button. “We had all the technical pieces like length of runway and facilities. But the one thing we learned was that the airlines really wanted to see buy-in from the business community.” After returning from the first conference, the team put their heads together to determine how to show community buy-in.

“Since Horizon had operated flights to LAX from here for two years, we had a proven route for tourism, but it was not proven to the airlines that we have a viable business market to the East,” Button detailed. “So we came up with the idea of a video that showcases the business market. The most difficult task was getting everyone into the video. It could have been a three hour video if we included all the businesses and spokespeople that have such good stories.”

The six-minute video was launched at the last conference in Atlanta and included ten community and business leaders who showed their support while outlining to airlines the benefits of serving the region. Cindy May Marketing produced the video locally. “I feel like they really connected with the video,” said Button. “I feel like we’ve done everything right and the video was the last thing on that checklist. I am reasonably optimistic and positive that our RFP [request for proposal] will be a success.”

“More than one air carrier has expressed that Flagstaff is a strong and viable market with proven visitor and business air passengers,” revealed Helmick in an email. “This video has been extremely well received by the air carriers and public alike.”

“The aviation industry for a lot of reasons is maximizing fleets. They are now more focused on the profitability of different routes,” said Button. “They need to have the right size and type of planes – we’re at 7,000 feet. They need to see a strong load factor.” Passenger load factor calculates the occupancy rate of air carrier routes to help determine profitability.

“This is a lengthy process,” emphasized Button. “It takes nine months for a route to be built into the airline’s system.” The RFP will be out soon and the airlines will have 30 to 60 days to respond. The team will review responses and then go to the City Council for approval. If approved, the airline will start their process of bringing service to Pulliam.

Last year the Economic Vitality Division of the city secured an $800,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant to assist with recruitment and start-up costs for the second airline. The Department of Transportation grant is good until December 2014. “Our grant was very well received. We told our story well,” said Button. “Seventy applications from 34 states went to the federal government which made 19 awards, ours being one.”

“US Air has been a phenomenal partner and meets the needs of its loyal passengers,” added Button. “A second airline would complement and provide added routes.”

The regional airport serves Northern Arizona including Sedona, Flagstaff, Camp Verde, Williams, Winslow and Page. FBN


View the City of Flagstaff Economic Vitality Division airport video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xm2SML0SxbI&feature=player_embedded


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