Idaho Businesses Want More Flights To Boise

fromBSPR

Cutbacks in airline routes affect more than disgruntled passengers — it may hinder a city's opportunity to turn around economically. Business owners say, as one of the most remote U.S. cities, Boise can't afford to lose flights.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One way airlines are trying to cut costs is to fly fewer flights. That, of course, has a major impact on airports. Not always hubs like Chicago or Dallas, often midsize airports are hit hardest. And one example is Boise, Idaho. As Boise State Public Radio's Molly Messick reports, business leaders in Boise fear flight reductions could stall their economic turnaround.

MOLLY MESSICK, BYLINE: Boise resident C.K. Haun has this routine down.

C.K. HAUN: Good morning. See you next week.

MESSICK: He may live in Idaho, but he's a senior engineer at Apple in California. Long before the sun is up, he arrives at the Boise Airport to catch his flight to San Jose.

HAUN: I can do this by autopilot now. Most of the TSA people know me and we smile and say hi. Every Monday morning, week in week out.

MESSICK: Haun has been making this commute for seven years. Not long ago, he saw a surprising change. His return flight - the one that came back after the workday - vanished. The only option left San Jose in the late morning. Haun says that's bad for him, and for Boise. He points to the software developers and hardware manufacturers that call the city home. He predicts they'll have a harder time without that one-day back-and-forth trip.

HAUN: It's the whole Valley that really is going to suffer if we don't have great movement between the technology hub of the Silicon Valley and the burgeoning technology industries we have up here.

MESSICK: Haun isn't the only one who's worried. Bill Connors is president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

BILL CONNORS: All of us agree, hey, that's a strategic route for us.

MESSICK: Connors says Boise can't afford to lose flights. After all, it's one of the most remote cities in the country. Connors says Boise has to be proactive and that could mean asking hard questions of the business community. Questions like these...

CONNORS: Look how much travel do you do between those two cities and would you kick in a little something for a marketing fund to try to attract these folks. You know, put a little skin in the game.

MESSICK: If they try this, city business leaders will be pushing back against big trends. In 2007, the Boise Airport tallied more than 3.3 million passengers. Last year it saw just 2.8 million. Numbers like that, along with high fuel prices, have airlines scrambling to contain costs. Airports are scrambling too.

BRYANT FRANCIS: It's not just Boise Airport that's out there trying to grow again. It's all the other airports as well.

MESSICK: Bryant Francis is a deputy director of the Boise Airport. It's his job to make the city's case to the airlines. Lately that's become more competitive.

FRANCIS: In years past, there were airports that just really weren't in the game. They weren't out there marketing themselves to the carriers. That has changed.

MESSICK: In other words, there are more airports grasping for a scare resource - flights. At the same time, Francis says, there's only so much any airport can do to reverse its short-term fortunes.

FRANCIS: The airlines aren't here for us. The airlines are here for themselves and their shareholders. And it's what we, our market, can do for them that is the most important thing.

MESSICK: On this aviation consultant Michael Boyd agrees.

MICHAEL BOYD: The reality of it is, there's no airline store and there's a limited amount of additional air service you can attract.

MESSICK: Boyd says midsize cities shouldn't look at the number of flights going in and out. The key issue is access to the rest of the world.

BOYD: The number one issue: Can Mr. Jong get here from Beijing? Can Mr. Smith get here from New York City? Boise ain't never going to have a nonstop to New York City. But you probably have, each day, five or six option in terms of when you can leave to get to New York City with one connection.

MESSICK: Boyd says Boise may actually be in an enviable position. Yes, the city's remoteness makes air service important. But it also means the Boise Airport has a captive customer base. In that sense, the city's weakness is also its strength.

For NPR News, I'm Molly Messick.

GREENE: And Molly's story is part of the State Impact Project. That's a collaboration between NPR and member stations examining the effects of policy on people's lives. This is NPR News.

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