Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ultra-low-cost airlines helping to boost traffic at John Glenn, Rickenbacker airports

John Glenn Columbus International Airport is on track for its second-busiest year ever, and Rickenbacker Airport topped its record passenger total, set just last year.

Taking a look at statistics for the first six months of the year, the Columbus Regional Airport Authority noted at its meeting Tuesday that these gains came almost entirely from airlines such as Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air. These carriers offer low-cost, often less-than-daily service and charge for bags, priority boarding and other extras.

Statistics released at the meeting of the airport authority, which oversees John Glenn, Rickenbacker and Bolton Field airports, show that passenger traffic at John Glenn Airport is expected to trail only 2007, when Columbus-based startup Skybus Airlines operated. The airport served nearly 3.69 million passengers, a 4.3 percent increase over the January-to-June period last year.

The increase was almost entirely thanks to Frontier Airlines, which launched service in Columbus in June 2016. Frontier served 143,294 passengers from January through June. If Frontier were taken out of the airport’s first-half numbers, John Glenn’s passenger traffic would have increased less than a quarter of a percent year-over-year.

The John Glenn figures don’t include data from Allegiant, which flies at cargo-focused Rickenbacker Airport.

Also an ultra-low-cost carrier, Allegiant increased its passenger totals by 34 percent for the first half of the year as it added flights. It served 133,554 passengers from January through June.

On the cargo side, Rickenbacker continues to boom. Cargo weight at the airport was up 21.4 percent for the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2016.

The growth of Frontier and Allegiant showcases those airlines’ growth nationally. In some cases, the carriers have been adding routes beyond their typical vacation-focused destinations. For example, Frontier recently announced it will start serving Austin, Texas, nonstop from Columbus in the spring.

Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation consultant, said the consumer stands to benefit in the short term by booking seats on these discount carriers, but people should be aware of what they’re buying.

“The three-flights-a-week model has some real vulnerabilities,” he said. “If something happens and a flight gets cancelled, you may not be able to get another for at least two or three days.”

Boyd said the “mainline” carriers such as Delta Air Lines and American Airlines should advertise to their strengths, rather than trying to compete on price with the upstarts by selling a “basic” fare that takes away perks.

“It’s not like these (ultra-low-cost) airlines are capitalizing on places where the major airlines are ignoring opportunities,” Boyd said. “If there is money to be made, they’re there. They’re just maximizing their revenue like every other business.”

Angie Tabor, spokeswoman for the airport authority, said officials continue to seek more service while being realistic about the state of the industry.

“We feel we’re doing well and that we compete very well for service,” Tabor said. “There are so many factors outside our control. It’s tricky to predict the future of air service. The airlines are becoming more nimble, which makes really good business sense for them.” 


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