For years, Grand Rapids has experienced some of the highest commercial airfares in the country, with travelers paying on average 25 to 30 percent more for their flights than those in peer markets.
As a result, West Michigan travelers book 30 percent of their flights out of airports in neighboring major markets rather than utilizing regional airports. This means that 365,000 passengers each year choose to drive to markets such as Detroit or Chicago to take advantage of better flight options and lower airfares.
This economic reality in the region translated to a declining frequency in commercial air service, shrinking seat inventory and regional passengers abandoning the western Michigan market.
Finding a Solution
For several years, West Michigan business and community leaders joined with airport officials in efforts to evaluate the problem and work toward solutions. Concerted efforts were made to attract low-cost carriers to the regional economy, knowing that keeping these dollars in the region would significantly impact businesses and consumers.
The additional costs that western Michigan travelers pay for airfares in the region equates to approximately $100 million in revenue paid each year to commercial airlines. This is revenue that could instead benefit the western Michigan economy.
The Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan (RAAWM) formalized in 2010 to continue efforts toward improving commercial air service and immediately announced that AirTran Airways would offer service out of Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids.
When AirTran entered the market in February 2010, business leaders began to see an immediate reversal of a two-year trend of decreasing air service in the region. Fares also began to decline.
Soon after AirTran entered the Grand Rapids market, Frontier Airlines, another low-cost carrier, followed suit.
A Bright Future for Western Michigan
Led by Dick DeVos, the RAAWM is a private sector group aimed at improving commercial air service in the region and positioning western Michigan commercial air service as both ‘best in class’ and as a strategic regional asset necessary to support continued economic growth and quality of life for the businesses and residents of the region.
As a result of the work RAAWM has done to-date in bringing additional air carriers to the market, Grand Rapids has moved in national rankings from the second to the eighth most expensive market in the country, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. If this trend continues, western Michigan residents should continue to see lower prices and expanded options when flying out of the region.