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Improved West Michigan air service helps hold down costs for travelers

GRAND RAPIDS – Efforts to diversify air travel options at Gerald R. Ford International Airport are helping to hold down cost increases for West Michigan travelers despite record-high airfares nationally, the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan announced today.

Airfare costs nationally rose 8.3 percent in 2011, hitting the highest level on record, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Yet average domestic round-trip airfares at Ford International Airport rose only 6 percent last year to $400. Meanwhile, airfares last year rose 7 percent at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, 6 percent at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and 9 percent at Chicago’s Midway International Airport.

“While our region is not immune to rising fuel costs or national fare increases, the unified effort of the private and public sectors to improve West Michigan air service is showing results,” said Dan Wiersma, executive director of the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan. “More robust competition at Gerald R. Ford International Airport is holding down cost increases and giving business and leisure travelers more options to get to destinations around the world.”

The Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan, chaired by businessman Dick DeVos, has pursued a multi-faceted strategy since it was launched in 2008 to improve air service to West Michigan – a region that spans 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. Figures for Q4 2011 show it has dropped to No. 17.

The Alliance was integral to attracting low-cost carrier AirTran to Grand Rapids in 2010, and Alliance officials successfully helped convince Southwest Airlines to continue to fly from the airport after it acquired AirTran in May 2011.

Last year, it cost only $22 more to fly from Grand Rapids than the average airfare at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

“We’re proud that our work has helped make it more affordable to fly from our region’s airport than to drive hours to Chicago or Detroit,” Wiersma added. “The Air Alliance of West Michigan is committed to continuing to close that gap and provide ‘best in class’ commercial air service to local travelers.”

For the fourth quarter of 2011, airfares at Ford International Airport rose 16 percent to $418 from $360 in the same period of 2010, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Nationally, the average airfare rose 10 percent to $368 from $335 in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Launched in 2008, the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan is a nonprofit organization with a mission to bring “best in class” commercial air travel to the region. Alliance members believe that quality air travel is vital to the region’s long-term economic growth and overall quality of life in West Michigan.

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