Bringing the Economy Home

As Airlines Drop Flights, Boise Business Leaders Target Air Service

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Bill Connors believes the local business community can be an asset in retaining -- and even attracting -- important flights.

StateImpact is considering the potential economic effects of the shrinking number of flights in and out of Boise.  As we mentioned in a post yesterday, there will be 20 percent fewer seats leaving Boise this summer than last.  The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce is targeting the issue through a new travel committee.  Early this week, I spoke to Bill Connors, the chamber’s president and CEO.

Q: How much of an issue is air service and flight availability when you’re looking at business recruitment and retention?

A: It’s an issue, and it’s particularly an issue for Boise because we’re one of the remotest metro regions in the nation.  Obviously the ability to conduct commerce through your airport is an important part of economic development.

Q: What kind of conversations do you have with people, when they’re considering coming here or expanding operations?

A: It’s always a consideration for a business coming into any community.  They look at the air service, because they want to be connected to their customers and potential customers.  It’s also a quality-of-life issue for a lot of their employees.

Boise is very fortunate to have five major airlines serving here.  And I would argue that even with connections, you can still get through our airport and to your destination quicker, just because it’s so easy to get through our airport and get home.  Timing-wise it’s a very efficient airport.

Q: Direct flights are what a lot of business travelers look for, is that right?

A: Absolutely.  I think if you look at some of the companies that have come here and looked at us, but maybe didn’t opt for us, and opted for Denver, say — well, we’re never going to be able to compete with Denver in terms of non-stop flights.  But again, I think we can stress the advantages of our little airport in terms of efficiency and ease.

I think there are some strategic routes that are important for us.  For example, it’s come to my attention from some local folks here that having that service between Boise and San Jose is very important, to be connected to the Silicon Valley.  If we’re going to be a tech player, we need to have that service.  Those strategic routes are important.

Q: Travel on the San Jose route has fallen by more than 40 percent since 2007.  When you look at that number, what does it tell you?

A: Well, we’re no different than a lot of things that are going on around this country.  We’ve suffered from the recession just like everybody else has.  Loss of air service, particularly in second-tier cities like ours, is not uncommon.  In fact, I think we’ve probably fared a little better than some of our counterparts.  All of that said, I think we, as a business community, have to be more aggressive in retaining our current non-stops, and going after strategic, important non-stops in the future.

Q: How do you do that?

A: Our airport is fairly aggressive in trying to court new business.  They have a business development person, and for an airport our size, that’s nice to have.  We also have some incentives, in terms of landing fees and marketing dollars, to support strategic routes for Boise.

Q: There’s a new travel committee involved with the Boise Metro Chamber, and the primary issue they’re considering is air travel.  It’s an area you’ve pinpointed as one of concern.

A: Yes, and I like to think the chamber is getting active in this because the business community has said, “This is important to us.”  When you get the business community rallied together around this particular issue, I think it will help, in terms of encouraging airlines to take a look at Boise.

Fuel prices have affected airlines’ profitability, and it really does separate the wheat from the chaff for the airlines.  Cities need to be more aggressive in recruiting service, because, quite frankly, it’s just tough to come by right now.

       This interview has been edited and shortened.


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