"The globe will be linked by flights, and nations so knit together that they grow to be next-door neighbors. ... What railways have done for nations, airways will do for the world." This seems so prophetic given it was said in 1914 by aviator and aeronautical engineer Claude Grahame-White. This unbelievable concept he put forth in 1914 has evolved so we now consider flying almost as normal as driving a car. The ability to board an airplane and travel anywhere in the world is now a vital component to the economic well-being of a community and a nation. Having an airport that can support both airlines as well as companies that fly their own aircraft is an element that cannot be dismissed as just a perk; it's a critical component for success and progress.
Delta made the decision to reduce its regional fleet and to eliminate the turbo prop aircraft, which was used to service Fort Dodge. In addition, if the fuel costs remain high, the future for the small 50-seat regional jets will also be in jeopardy. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when jet fuel cost about one-fourth what it does today, airlines considered small jets a profitable way to connect people in smaller markets to the rest in the world. But as jet fuel prices soared, regional jets became less economical. The airlines are not able to spread the higher jet fuel cost over the limited number of seats and still keep the fares competitive. The aircraft providing our service uses less fuel and is more competitive.
Looking ahead to the changes in our air service from Delta to Great Lakes Airlines, I would like to highlight the following important considerations. First and foremost, we must see ourselves as fortunate to remain connected to the world through commercial air service.
The Iowa Department of Transportation Office of Aviation conducted an economi-benefit study, which identified the total economic benefit to the community of our airport as $36 million. This impact clearly supports the airport's critical role as a major economic catalyst for our region. The annual investment of $200,000 in tax dollars used to support the airport allows it to maintain and support a facility that can continue to provide an important community and regional economic return.
Delta and Great Lakes have teamed together to offer seamless air service from Fort Dodge to the Delta system in Minneapolis. Our passengers will still have the following benefits:
The flights will still be direct - nonstop to Minneapolis/St Paul.
Flight time remain the same -roughly 50 minutes in the air.
Delta's Frequent Flyer SkyMiles will still be rewarded from Fort Dodge.
You can still book tickets on Delta.com to your final destination.
Increase in frequency from two daily flights to three, offering more connection options.
Transfer of checked luggage to Delta's aircraft is seamless.
The flights will depart/arrive on the more convenient Concourse E in Minneapolis instead of on the A and B Concourses, which are on the perimeter.
Great Lakes also has agreements with American, United and Continental. Your checked bags at your origin will automatically transfer to your connecting airline.
Booking a trip to or from just Minneapolis will be very reasonable and possible on the Great Lakes website.
Fares are expected to remain competitive and Great Lakes is most receptive to managing its fares - an advantage of being a smaller airline.
Every passenger gets an aisle and a window seat.
Booking a flight to or from Fort Dodge on Delta now will be honored by Great Lakes when the change occurs. Your flight will simply move over to the new airline, with minimal changes. The date of the transition to Great Lakes Airlines is still undetermined and could be months away. Starting up an airline takes careful planning and time.
In addition to booking a continuing flight on Delta, savvy travelers can secure a good fare out of Minneapolis on one of the other airlines that has an agreement with Great Lakes (American, United, Continental and Frontier). By also booking your flight from Fort Dodge to Minneapolis, Great Lakes will be able to combine those two flights into one at check-in resulting in a seamless connection to your final destination for both boarding passes and luggage. This opens up many additional travel options on additional airlines.
Thanks to the passengers who made the choice to fly Fort Dodge, the airport exceeded 10,000 passengers for 2011 on Nov. 28. Achieving this goal allows our airport to be considered a primary airport and the ability to receive up to $1 million of grant funds annually. Continued use of our air service will support the improvements and amenities that passengers and airlines have come to expect from an airport.
When I hear people say that the turbo prop aircraft is so small, I ask them to consider this. If a corporation invited you to take a flight on their private plane, the odds are that it would be smaller than the aircraft Great Lakes will be operating out of Fort Dodge. In addition, the private plane would normally not have a lavatory or a flight attendant. Most people would be thrilled with the opportunity to fly on a private plane. I submit it will be considered OK to fly on an aircraft that is bigger than most private aircraft for a flight taking less than one hour.
Commercial airline service is vital to the economic well-being of our community. Understanding trends and motivations in commercial aviation will allow us to better position ourselves to respond to an industry that experiences frequent change. The airline industry is a very dynamic industry historically with a certain level of uncertainty. It is very important that we understand and accept these changes as they occur and respond positively by supporting the air service. As Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines CEO, once said, "If the Wright brothers were alive today, Wilbur would have to fire Orville to reduce costs."
Rhonda Chambers is director of aviation at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport.