Kalamazoo’s new airport director sees blue skies

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - When it comes to the future of the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, David Reid sees clear skies.

Passenger air traffic is up, the new airport director told the Kalamazoo Gazette (http://bit.ly/1nM0RmK ). The airport is self-sustaining. The business community is engaged with helping its growth. And the facility, three years after opening its new terminal building, is planning for more growth.

“We’ve always had a strong market here in Kalamazoo as far as the need for air service,” said Reid, 45, who was named permanent director of the airport in February after serving on an interim basis since September.

With a cluster of high-profile corporate users such as Stryker Corp., Pfizer Inc. and Kellogg Co., he said, “I think the corporate market has driven the need for air service here … for our size town, we have quite a presence here.”

He mentioned Kalamazoo’s long history with flight, including its support of the Western Michigan University School of Aviation, the Air Zoo and, years ago, the Kalamazoo International Air Show.

“Our overall traffic is up 3 percent from last year,” Reid said. “That tends to show people are using us more, and that’s both business and leisure.”

Passenger traffic for April, alone, rose 10 percent, according to the airport’s Market Share Report for that month. There were 22,875 passenger trips to and from the local airport in April, up from 20,518 in April of 2013.

Reid said in the past several years, as the economic recession of 2008 caused many families to cut their budget for leisure travel and forced companies to eliminate some business trips, air travel declined and the airport had to dig into its financial reserves to make ends meet. But revenues have balanced expenditures over the past couple of years.

The airline industry changed significantly after Sept. 11, 2001, and the economic downturn also has meant lots of change, Reid said.

“The biggest impact over the last six to eight years,” he said, “is the fuel cost.”

Airlines have worked to reduce the number of aircraft they use and cut back on the number of flights. And flights are more efficient from an operational standpoint, he said. Airlines here have improved their passenger capacity to about 80 percent per flight, compared to 50 percent a few years ago.

Kalamazoo’s airport has long been in an ongoing fight for passengers with airports in Grand Rapids, Chicago, Detroit and South Bend, Ind., which often can offer lower prices.

“Our biggest leakage is to Detroit and Chicago and then to Grand Rapids,” Reid said. In polling, “leakage” is an assessment of individuals living or working here whose business “leaks” to other airports.

The main complaint of travelers who are vocal about the local airport is that air fares are more expensive to and from Kalamazoo and they are willing to drive to other cities to cut costs.

However, they may not be saving as much money as they think, Reid said.

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