Sunday, September 3, 2017

Purdue University Airport (KLAF), Tippecanoe County, Indiana: We want to bring commercial air service to Greater Lafayette



WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For the first time in years, Purdue University Airport leadership says it's ready to land a commercial airline. 

As recently as last year, airport officials said that was a lost cause, primarily because Indianapolis and Chicago airports were close enough to Greater Lafayette to serve leisure and business travelers.

The new airport manager, Adam Baxmeyer, has a different view — and he's ready to fight for commercial air service. 

"Obtaining a level of commercial service is very possible at our airport," he said. "I also believe that it is an uphill climb and will require the support of more than just Purdue University. While it is true that we are relatively close to Chicago and Indianapolis, that doesn’t mean that air service is not viable here." 

For the past few months, Purdue has been reviewing data related to university travel and started to assess what improvements would be needed at the airport to support carriers.

Once that's done, Baxmeyer said, the airport plans to engage community and business leaders and make pitches to airlines. 

After years of soaring economic development and commensurate population growth, Greater Lafayette is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country without commercial air service. 

"We have a great story to tell and share with potential airlines, but it will need to be a community effort," said Baxmeyer, who was hired in October. 

Competing airports see this market as ripe for the picking. 




Go west, young man

While Purdue airport leadership stubbornly insisted that commercial air service would never return to Greater Lafayette, an airport in another college town west of here — roughly the same distance from Indianapolis and Chicago — took a contrarian view. 

That work paid off, and now Willard Airport at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana is welcoming new carriers and new routes. 

"We get out in front of every airline we can," Executive Director Gene Cossey said. "We make them aware of the demand that's here. We look at 30-, 45-, 60- and 90-minute drive times from the airport, and we show them what the demand in those different counties are, so that — if they do invest in establishing a new station or putting a new aircraft here — they know we have the ability to make them successful." 

Baxmeyer said Willard's growth is especially impressive because, in addition to major airports in Indianapolis and Chicago, Willard has four other airports with commercial service within a 90-minute drive — Bloomington/Normal, Decatur, Springfield and Peoria. 

"There are many similarities between our communities — comparable metropolitan areas, robust economies and both have university-owned and -operated airports," he said. "Champaign’s recent successes in air service serve as an example and support the idea that we can accomplish similar success here."

In other words, if Champaign-Urbana can have nice things, so too should Greater Lafayette. 




But don't pack those suitcases yet, cautions Michael Boyd, an aviation industry expert and president of Boyd Group International Strategic Aviation Solutions in Evergreen, Colorado.

As airlines focus on larger cities and pull out of markets even larger than Lafayette, landing service with American, Delta or United is unlikely to materialize, Boyd said. 

"Ain't happening, guys," he said. "In this environment, it is every bit as likely as an Elvis sighting."

Leading the charge

In hiring Baxmeyer to lead its airport, Purdue University selected a manager with a rich background in commercial air service. 


Baxmeyer graduated from Purdue's aviation program in 2002, at which point he became airport operations supervisor in Traverse City, Michigan. He worked there until 2006, when he became director of operations and facilities in Bloomington/Normal. 

While a student at Purdue, Baxmeyer worked at United Express — parent organization of United Airlines' regional carriers — from 1999 to 2001 at the West Lafayette airfield.

"While I had the chance to visit the community many times in the 14 years between my graduation and return as airport manager, I am still amazed at the positive and continued development in all of Tippecanoe County," Baxmeyer said. 

The good news: Should a carrier be convinced to give Greater Lafayette a try, ramping up operations wouldn't be difficult. 

"At the current airfield infrastructure — runways, ramps and taxiways — we currently have everything in place to handle commercial service," Baxmeyer said. "The biggest challenge is revisiting the current terminal, which was constructed in the 1950's at a time when airport security was much different."

But even that's not a deal-breaker, as post-9/11 security was in place through 2004, when a regional carrier for American Airlines took off for the last time. 

The only way Greater Lafayette gets commercial air service is if the community rallies behind the idea, Baxmeyer said. 

"The manner in which airports most often obtain service is to assemble data that is key to the airlines, partnering with community leaders to establish a common goal and message, and then conducting visits to airlines," he said. "To return commercial service to the Purdue University Airport, a similar approach will be needed."

Original article and comments ➤ http://www.jconline.com

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