Chamber: Survey to gauge air travel preferences

Steve Sinovic//February 27, 2019

Chamber: Survey to gauge air travel preferences

Steve Sinovic//February 27, 2019

Nearly 4 million passengers took off and landed at Boise Airport in 2018. Photo courtesy of Boise Airport.

The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce would like to see America’s fastest-growing city attract more commercial airlines to expand nonstop service to the area.

To get a sense of which routes might be most helpful to its members, the Chamber has retained data analytics firm Make Idaho Better to conduct a survey.

Whether it’s reinstating intra-Idaho service from the City of Trees to places like Idaho Falls and Lewiston, trips to other cities in the Mountain West, or nonstop flights back East, one reality emerges: all the airlines want to know that there’s sufficient interest to support ridership and justify their investment, said Bill Connors, the Chamber’s CEO.

“We want to let them (the carriers) know that there’s a growing market here for them,” said Connors. “Boise has become an attractive and in-demand destination for both business and leisure travelers.”

He said results of the survey from the business advocacy organization will be shared with the Boise Airport, which continues to make its own case to bring in new service.

“They’ve (airport leadership) have done a great job to get a couple of new carriers to come here” he said of the 20 nonstops flying out of the Boise Airport.

The Chamber is eager to lend support in any way it can to land more, said Connors. There will be challenges, said Connors, who previously served as executive director of the National Business Travel Association of America. Many secondary markets have lost air service all together in recent years, he added.

“We lost Reno and got it back,” he said. “You’ve got to make the case (to the airlines)” who do their own ongoing analyses of markets where they might potentially do business.

In concert with the Boise Airport, the Chamber “did a lot of research on a Billings-to-Boise flight, and pushed our friends at Alaska to take a look at it,” he said, referring to the viability of service between the two cities.

So far, no service on a daily, weekly or even a seasonal basis is available to Montana’s largest city, despite the fact that airports can offer airlines incentives from the Small Community Air Service Development Program, grants that can be used to attract new air service by establishing revenue guarantees, cost offsets or marketing support.

At the Boise Chamber, “there’s a strong feeling” about the return of service to Lewiston and Idaho Falls, which were discontinued, said Connors.

Alaska Airlines — the parent company of Horizon, which operated the service — ended the flights because they typically were 60 percent full, compared with 85 percent full system-wide.

While load factors are a key element driving air service, another challenge to adding new flights is the shrinking number of airlines serving the U.S., said Connors. The domestic market previously had dozens of airlines, but corporate consolidation through acquisitions and mergers have significantly reduced the number of competitors.

Now the top five airlines control nearly 80 percent of the whole domestic market — carriers are flying fuller and to fewer destinations.

Airlines, like any business, look for the best return on their investment, and thus deploy their assets (airplanes) in the markets they feel can obtain enough market share to be profitable, Connors added.

“One of the things the survey may do is stoke some interest from semi-private, membership-based companies — perhaps charter operators — that might be interested” in offering custom flights to places where many Chamber members “conduct commerce,” said Connors.

Companies like Jet Smarter and JetSuiteX have jumped into this market in some other growing U.S cities that don’t have regularly scheduled commercial flights.

Chicago is the farthest city now serving the Boise market, which means layovers for those heading to East Coast destinations. Southwest Airlines recently announced it would be offering Saturday-only service this summer to Chicago Midway.

Connors expects the survey will show strong interest in direct service to the East Coast. He expects Washington, D.C., New York City and Atlanta will pop up as in-demand locations for potential new flights.

Airport officials continue to make their own pitches on the service development front.

As the Treasure Valley market continues to grow, coupled with more utilization of the local airport, Boise Airport Marketing Manager Sean Briggs hopes to “see an increase in opportunities.”

“As the demand by more business and leisure air travelers expands, the reality of long-haul service to the East Coast gets better and better,” said Briggs.