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West Michigan air fares remain below record highs, despite industry price spikes

GRAND RAPIDS – Despite a new high for U.S. domestic average air fare, air fares in West Michigan remain 14 percent below their all-time high of four years ago, the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan announced today.

It cost $508 on average to fly out of Gerald Ford International Airport in the third quarter of 2008, but just $437 in the first quarter of 2012, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Meanwhile, U.S. domestic average air fare topped out at $375 in the first quarter of this year, a record high. Airfare costs nationally rose 8.3 percent in 2011, while average domestic round-trip airfares at Ford International Airport rose only 6 percent last year to $400.

Still, average air fares in West Michigan were up in the first quarter 2012.

“Simple economics – supply and demand – continues to play a major role in determining air fare pricing for West Michigan,” said Dan Wiersma, executive director of the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan. “Scheduled departing seat inventory declined 7.6 percent in the first quarter and average fares increased 14.8 percent, resulting in a 5.9 percent decline in passengers.”

The Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan and Ford International Airport officials have been working to increase the number of low-cost carriers such as AirTran Airways, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air serving West Michigan. The alliance was integral to attracting AirTran to Grand Rapids in 2010, and alliance officials helped convince Southwest Airlines to continue to fly from the airport after it acquired AirTran in May 2011.

“Despite our efforts, the continued dominance of major airlines such as Delta and United – representing 61 percent of capacity at Ford International Airport – makes it difficult to drive down prices,” Wiersma said.

Launched in 2008, the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan is a nonprofit organization working to bring quality commercial air travel to the region to foster long-term economic growth and enhance overall quality of life in West Michigan.

Chaired by businessman Dick DeVos, the alliance is pursuing a multi-faceted strategy to improve air service to West Michigan – a region spanning from Kalamazoo to Traverse City and the Lakeshore to Lansing. In 2008, Ford International Airport was the third most expensive of the nation’s largest 100 airports. In 2011 it dropped to No. 23.

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