Lansing’s airport hopes for D.C. route with $750K grant
LANSING – Capital Region International Airport has landed a federal grant that it hopes will lure United Airlines to offer nonstop service to Washington, D.C.
The Lansing airport plans to use the $750,000 grant to provide a minimum revenue guarantee for service to Washington Dulles International Airport through one of United’s regional airline affiliates.
The airport also is pursuing a deal with Mendota Heights, Minn.-based Sun Country Airlines for nonstop service from Lansing to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is closer to the nation’s capital. But the Dulles application was in the works first.
“Right now we’re kind of in the middle of two very positive opportunities,” airport spokeswoman Nicole Noll-Williams said.
United, part of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., has not agreed to fly the Dulles route. Lansing last had a direct flight to Dulles five years ago. But the carrier did provide a letter of support with the grant application. Airline officials did not return requests for comment.
“We still need to go back to United Airlines,” Noll-Williams said. “Of course, a lot has changed with them because they’re in the middle of a merger with Continental. There was no guarantee that the service would be initiated.”
The airline last month closed a deal to combine with Continental Airlines Inc. to become the world’s largest carrier.
Meanwhile, Sun Country is seeking federal approval to add daily nonstop service to Reagan Washington. That route also would include nonstop service to Minneapolis.
With United, Capital Region hopes to offer two daily flights to Dulles on 50-seat regional jets operated by a United regional airline affiliate. United already offers daily flights to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago through commuter carriers.
The airport had proposed starting service in June 2011, provided the grant was awarded in December. But Noll-Williams said the actual timing depends on information in the grant agreement, which she expects to receive next week.
Fares have not been set or proposed. They are set by the carrier.
$1 million requested
The grant was awarded through a U.S. Department of Transportation program that helps smaller communities develop air service.
The airport originally had requested $1 million, but Noll-Williams said $750,000 is “nothing to be disappointed about.”
It had unsuccessfully applied for a $750,000 grant last year. The airport said in its application it would waive landing fees for two years, a move worth $200,000. It also will provide $100,000 for marketing. Community organizations have pledged $150,000 in cash and $200,000 worth of in-kind contributions for local advertising.
Dulles is located about 25 miles outside Washington’s main business district, while Reagan is within metro D.C.
Tim Daman, president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it’s good to have options. “I know that Washington, D.C., is the number one business destination from Lansing, so I think any opportunities we have to expand and add direct service to D.C. would be significant for our region,” he said.
Okemos-based Delta Dental of Michigan, which backed the Dulles service in a letter of support, sends employees to D.C. to work with congressional leaders on oral health issues. They either have to fly out of Lansing and connect in Detroit or fly from Detroit, spokesman Ari Adler said.
Great for business
“It’s great from a business standpoint that you can reach out across the country from your own hometown,” Adler said.
Nonstop service to Washington should help the airport attract travelers who might otherwise go to other nearby airports, said Tamara Corrie, a consultant at Classic Travel in Okemos.
“Hopefully it’d be reasonably priced, of course, to get that business,” she said.
Passenger traffic and capacity has dropped the past few years at the Lansing airport, while fares have risen.
Since 2001, nine airlines have discontinued service to a total of 12 destinations.
Independence Air started direct service to Dulles in July 2004, but pulled out in January 2005 and subsequently went out of business. Northwest Airlines Corp., now owned by Atlanta’s Delta Air Lines Inc., offered nonstop flights to Reagan Washington, but dropped the route in January 2006.
Delta now offers daily service to Detroit and Minneapolis, while Sun Country will offer seasonal service to Orlando and Fort Myers, Fla.; Las Vegas; Cancun, Mexico; and Montego Bay, Jamaica; starting in December.
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