Cincinnati airport looks to offset reduced flights

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - An airport considered vital to economic development in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky region is striving to expand service and offset airline cutbacks that have caused concern in the region's business community.

The chief executive officer of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport on Friday continued her ongoing efforts to reach out to the community with the message that the airport "is still alive and well," despite the loss of hundreds of daily flights in recent years.

CEO Candace McGraw told the Woman's City Club of Greater Cincinnati that the airport is affected by conditions beyond its control, but is working constantly to attract low-cost carriers, get existing ones to expand service and persuade local residents to choose it over competing airports in the region. Rising fuel costs that have led airlines to boost fares and airline consolidations reducing the number of carriers are some of the outside factors working against the facility.

At least five airports within a two-hour drive in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio that often offer lower fares also present a challenge, and the Cincinnati airport is looking for ways to make itself more appealing to local customers, she said.

She also said the airport is constantly talking with existing airline partners and potential new ones to find out what they need and match that with the needs of the region.

Flight cutbacks by the Cincinnati airport's dominant carrier, Delta Air Lines, drastically reduced the number of daily flights at the airport in recent years.

There are now about 170 a day, compared with around 600 daily in 2005, and the Cincinnati hub's role also was diminished as Delta acquired additional hubs after merging with Northwest Airlines in 2007.

"We know that we will not have the level of service that we had, but we are still providing a very good level of service," McGraw said.

The Cincinnati airport had long been considered a major draw for corporations to locate in the area because of the large number of flights available when the Delta Air Lines hub there was flourishing, but that has changed in recent years.

Chiquita Brands International noted last year in announcing it was moving to Charlotte, N.C., that a key factor in the decision was the greater access to foreign flights in and out of Charlotte's airport and the assortment of those flights.

"Given what's going on these days in the airline industry, we know we aren't going to have huge increases ever again," Steve Stevens, president and chief executive officer of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday.

"But we have to work on the incremental increases we can do.

" Stevens' group has been collaborating with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and the Cincinnati Business Committee, a group of area Fortune 500 companies, to help find ways of boosting air service to the area.

The groups last year commissioned a study of what services businesses want and need, and those efforts are continuing in collaboration with the airport, said Ellen van der Horst, president and chief executive of Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

The airport also has been making improvements to the facility itself. A $131 million project announced last year will include the reopening next month of a refurbished concourse closed in 2010 and other improvements and enhancements designed to make the airport more attractive and efficient for passengers.

We want this to be their airport of choice," said McGraw.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)