Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport (KBWG), Kentucky: Return of Destin flights uncertain



The second year of seasonal commercial flights between Bowling Green and Destin, Fla., from Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport ended Aug. 15. Whether there will be a third year of service remains undetermined.

The three weekly flights to and from the popular Gulf Coast destination were offered from May 13 to Aug. 13, and a little more than 60 percent of the seats on the flights were sold – less than the 80-85 percent most airlines look for in terms of load capacity to break even. But passenger numbers increased as the summer progressed, and no decision has been made on future service, said Airport Manager Rob Barnett.

"We started slow, but by the end of the season the load factor was good," Barnett said. "By the end of the season our marketing was paying dividends."

He said local officials are still talking with officials with Tennessee-based Contour Airlines about the Destin flights next summer, as well as with other airlines about potential opportunities to start other routes.

"Hopefully something will come to fruition," Barnett said.

The airport in part subsidizes the Destin flights though paying for things such as ground crews.

"This is not a profit center for us. We look at it as a service to the community," he said.

Other airports in smaller cities often offer commercial service with federal subsidies. Bowling Green doesn't qualify for so-called Essential Air Service subsidies because of the proximity of air service out of Nashville.

"It's very, very expensive" to offer commercial air service, Barnett said. "In order to continue growing this market, people have to use the service. It's very challenging. It's a struggle every day."

Indeed, the airport saw a very recent example of the difficulty. Amid much fanfare in late 2015, daily roundtrip service was started to Atlanta, but because of a lack of demand, the flights were discontinued after three months in December 2016.

The Destin flights also began in 2016 and have proven more popular than the Atlanta flights.

"It seems locally the vacation travel service seems to work the best here," Barnett said.

"We had hundreds of positive remarks about how convenient the service was," Barnett said, noting that an average length of time to go through local security screening was five to six minutes. The airport also offers free parking just feet from the terminal building, which was installed for the commercial service in 2015.

"The facilities worked very well," said Barnett. "We had quite a few frequent fliers. It was their third or fourth time because it was so convenient."

He said the airport saw fliers from Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio as well as from across Kentucky.

Tickets for the Destin flights started at $139. While boosting ticket prices would raise more revenue, doing so would be a gamble.

"The airline industry is very price sensitive," Barnett said. "People will pay for convenience, but they are also shopping around."

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.bgdailynews.com

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