(Host) One year after September 11, air travel nationwide remains sluggish – down by over 11%. And many of the major airlines are struggling to stay in business. Burlington International Airport has managed to buck the trend – they’ve seen a 20% increase in ridership in the last two years, due mainly to increased competition among airlines.
But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, Rutland airport, which has only one passenger carrier, is having a tougher time.
(Keck) A dark blue U.S. Airways Express plane revs its engines as it prepares to take off from Rutland State airport. Rutland had offered four flights a day – three to Boston and one to New York City. Starting this week, however, there will be only three flights a day, all to Boston. Rutland Airport Manager Tom Trudeau says they’ve been hit by a double whammy: a big decline in air travel following September 11 and the bankruptcy of their only passenger carrier, U.S. Airways.
(Trudeau) “It’s been a very volatile market since 9-11. Things have changed and I think some things have changed forever. We’re not flying the same number of passengers now that we flew before 9-11. We’re about 30-40% off, depending about which month you’re talking about.”
(Keck) But Trudeau says there is some good news. August saw a big increase in passengers. And he says changes that U.S. Airways will have to make to stay in business will mean lower ticket prices for leisure travelers, who make up the majority of Rutland’s business.
(Trudeau) “U.S. Airways prior to 9-11, prior to their bankruptcy, has been an airline that’s catered to business travelers. And that’s made us somewhat noncompetitive to the surrounding airports and the air services that are available there. With the restructuring, what they’re saying and what I’m believing is that they’re going to try and reduce their fixed costs, so that they can price tickets – maybe not the same price as discount service – but at an amount that would still make it attractive to fly out of Rutland.”
(Keck) Trudeau is fairly confident that U.S. Airways will stay in business. But if the company doesn’t, he says another major carrier would probably step in and affiliate with Colgan Air, the company that runs the commuter passenger service out of Rutland.
Over the last five years, Rutland airport has received four million dollars worth of improvements – a new instrument approach system, a better runway, and a new approach lighting system which will be installed this year. Trudeau says those changes have helped boost the airport’s flight reliability during the winter months to nearly 97%. Now he and transportation officials say they just need to get the word out.
(MacGuire) “The future for Rutland really depends greatly on the marketing put behind Rutland.”
(Keck) That’s Greg MacGuire, he handles transportation marketing for Vermont’s Department of Tourism. He says a surprising number of people in the Rutland area aren’t aware of the services available at their local airport.
(MacGuire) “I think there’s a great story to be told in the fact that it’s close in, free parking, very little hassle checking in to your flight. You can board your aircraft within minutes of parking your car and be in the national air system without the lines, the delays and the cost of long term parking.”
(Keck) Macguire says state and local spending this year on marketing for Rutland’s airport probably totaled about $10,000. He says a federal grant they’d applied for did not come through and with the current economic situation, he says marketing money will be in short supply.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.