Passenger traffic increases at Lansing airport

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By: Jane Ma

Sun Country plane at Lansing airport

Sun Country plane at Lansing airport.

The Capital Region International Airport has seen an upswing in passenger traffic in the past few years after previous years of continual decline.

The airport hit its peak in passenger traffic with more than 700,000 passengers in 1998 and again in 1999.Factors that contributed to the increased traffic include the booming national economy and more airlines serving the airport then than there are today, said Robert Selig, the airport’s president and chief executive officer.

The airport had 10 airlines in 1999, twice as many as the five operating in  2012, according to the airport’s airline market share records.

1998-2012 Lansing Airport Total Passenger Airlines

The Lansing airport experienced a steady decline in passenger traffic throughout the next decade that was largely a result of the continuous consolidation of the airline industry, Selig said. “This reduced the number of airline seats available for sale, thus reduced the number of passengers processed.”

Contributions that led to the eventual upswing in passenger traffic include the development of non-stop charter flights to both domestic and international destinations. Much of that growth came in early 2011 from Sun Country Airlines, a Mendota, Minn. based carrier that had launched daily flights from Washington D.C. and Minneapolis. Allegiant Air also returned in Nov. 2012 after a three year absence and contributed to more than 4,800 passengers before the year end from their non-stop service to Orlando, Fla.

Lansing Airport Passenger Airline Market Share

2005 Lansing Airport Passenger Airline Market Share

2012 Lansing Airport Passenger Airline Market Share

The Detroit Metro Airport is the Capital Region International Airport’s biggest competitor in terms of “leakage,” according to Selig.

But unlike the Lansing airport, the Detroit airport has not seen as drastic of a change in passenger traffic within the past few years. “The traffic at Detroit Metro Airport has remained relatively flat over the past couple of years, although the percentage of our traffic that’s international continues to increase significantly,” said Scott Wintner, Wayne County Airport Authority Public Affairs Manager.

1998-2012 Lansing Airport Passenger Totals

The Michigan Flyer, an East Lansing based bus to Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport offers Lansing and Ann Arbor area residents an alternative to getting to the Detroit airport. Since Michigan Flyer began in 2006, it has carried more than 100,000 passengers per year, according to its website. Lansing airport and Michigan Flyer officials say the bus service isn’t a major contributor to Lansing airport’s “leakage” to Detroit.

“It’s just another way to get to their airport,” said Nicole Noll-Williams, Capital Region Airport Authority director of regional market development.

Diane Moore, Michigan Flyer sales manager adds: “We are not competing with the Lansing airport. We say that our biggest competition is with the family car. People make decisions on whether they’re going to fly out of Detroit or Lansing based on many other factors, such as price. If they choose to fly Detroit, they just decide how to get there, whether or not it is by the Michigan Flyer.”

But Wintner says the Michigan Flyer influences Lansing area residents to choose to fly out of Detroit instead of Lansing. “Although Michigan Flyer is a private business that’s not obligated to share its ridership data with us, I think it’s safe to say that the existence and success of services like Michigan Flyer that connect Lansing with the Detroit Metro Airport definitely reflect the desire of many Lansing-area travelers to use Detroit as their primary airport.”

“After I found out about the Michigan Flyer from my friend, I knew that I would use it to get to the Detroit airport because the Lansing airport doesn’t have direct flights to China,” said Lvyang Wan, MSU international student.

The Capital Region International Airport is Michigan’s only full service international airport other than Detroit, Selig said. That means it has international passenger, cargo, corporate aviation, flight clearance and foreign trade zone designation. “Residents of Lansing and its surrounding areas should choose to fly Lansing because it’s convenient, close, cost effective and easy to access the national and international air transportation system,” he said.

The Lansing airport started engaging passengers with Facebook and Twitter last year, said Noll-Williams.

“We use social media to inspire people to travel and to build awareness of our unique airport amenities,” said Noll-Williams. “We also use social media to get feedback about customer experiences. We have almost 5,000 Facebook likes to date, but more importantly, we have built an active community that is engaged with the airport brand and content.”

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