Aggressive marketing still missing at airport

Aggressive marketing still missing at airport

By By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again now—marketing is the key to development of an airport, whether it be building cargo service or passenger service. The folks who operate Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport understand that very well.

They know you must get your story before the public over a wide area if your airport is to have any hope of growth, especially where passenger service is concerned. Accordingly, Mitchell field has people who aggressively seek to accomplish that goal.

The marketing department there has developed a survey form which they send to a fairly large number of media outlets. It asks each newspaper, broadcast station or magazine who is the proper person to contact at each organization. The survey then asks how the media want to receive the information from the airport, by mail, facsimile, or electronically.

They offer to send additional information in other forms if the news outlet wishes. Interviews with airport managers and department heads can be easily arranged. The marketing people ask what topics are usually covered by the publication or broadcast station. That’s how they get their message out to the public.

In addition to that effort, there is a newsletter that goes to potential passengers and businesses in the upper Midwest. They also have various brochures, schedules, and fact publications that are widely distributed.

They keep the flying public informed about any new airlines or services at Mitchell field. When a new city is added to their list of destinations, the potential users of the service are quickly informed. The public also is told about on-the-ground improvements at the airport and what facilities are available for their use.

Where is Greater Rockford Airport with this kind of effort? Where is their survey? Where are their marketing packages and mailings? Small wonder we have only one

airline and one destination to offer. All that we see happening is a periodic claim that the

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airport director is talking with several airlines, and once a month or so, he sends out a brochure.

It will take more than that to get any action. If we’re going to wait for the airlines to come to us, it will be a long, cold wait. Any marketing effort must be aggressive. There must be a plan, consistently carried out, to have any results.

We may not be able to get the Uniteds, Americans and TWAs, but there are other carriers who could serve us just as well. We, however, have to give them a good reason to fly here. There has to be a solid demonstration that the market is here and that they can operate here at a profit.

The airport can’t do it alone. It also needs the backing and assistance of Rockford’s business community. They stand to benefit from improved passenger service as well. Perhaps a new administration in City Hall will make an effort to get the show on the road. At least, candidate Larry Morrissey sees the potential and has said he will work for passenger service if he is elected.

Let us hope this program will not long be delayed. We must get some momentum in the next several months, or we stand at risk for dropping out of the loop. If Bloomington can do it, why not us? Why not now?

Another objective we need to pursue is high-speed rail service. Morrissey has also been pounding on this rail before all the other candidates lined up.

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative is already at work to develop this project. Rockford is not a member. If we don’t become part of this effort, we will be left behind, both in terms of service and economic development.

The plan is to use existing rail lines once they are upgraded and meet requirements for high-speed operations. The trains used will be capable of speeds up to 110 miles an hour. Rail lines radiating from Chicago will be developed over a 10-year period.

Experts estimate the network will carry 9.6 million passengers a year and will earn enough income to cover its operating costs. The economic impact on the region will be significant, too—2,000 new rail service jobs, 4,000 temporary construction jobs, plus an additional $2.8 billion in public and private sector investments.

The rail system will be served by a feeder bus system which will put about 80 percent of the Midwest’s population within an hour’s ride of a train or bus station. Buses, rail and airlines will be inter-related so travelers can utilize the quickest, most economical and most efficient means of reaching their destinations.

Travel times would be cut by up to 30 percent. Trains will be state-of-the-art, and they will run more often to provide greater convenience. There will be more and better options for reaching major urban centers as well as smaller communities.

The complete system is expected to cost about $4.1 billion over the next decade. The 66 trains will cost about $652 million. The capital improvements plan would utilize 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent matching state and local monies.

In Illinois, Gov. George Ryan has pledged $70 million in tax dollars to build the first segment of high-speed rail between Chicago and St. Louis. The stretch between Dwight and Springfield is earmarked for this improvement. The state is the first to commit major monies to this system. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is heading up efforts to bring high-speed rail service to his state, with plans for the first link to be built from Milwaukee to Madison. His goal is to have that stretch operational by 2003.

The time for Rockford to get active in this area is right now. If not, we will be pumping a handcar while the world jets by at 110 miles an hour.

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