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Airport marketing could help draw more passengers

Imagine a billboard on Interstate 94 just out of St. Cloud as one drives north with a picture of Paul Bunyan and Babe at the Lake Bemidji waterfront:

"If you had flown, you'd be here by now."

That's a thought by Bemidji Regional Airport Authority Commissioner Jack Frost, as the authority held initial talks Wednesday evening about a marketing strategy plan.

"Now is the time to market for increased business when the economy is down," says Airport Authority Executive Director Harold Van Leeuwen, "not when the economy is good and planes are full."

Not that the service at Bemidji is hurting. Enplanements are down, but Van Leeuwen expects them to pick up in the next 12 to 18 months as the economy turns around. Delta Airlines is still maintaining the same number of seats to Bemidji, but is adjusting plans to meet capacity, he said.

Enplanements in May were 1,572, down because of the weather and Memorial Day holiday, Van Leeuwen said.

The summer is looking good , he said, with Delta now using two CRJ regional jets and a Saab turboprop in its three daily roundtrips to Bemidji -- and sometimes three regional jets.

The Airport Authority heard a pitch Wednesday from KK Radio's Richard and Butch De La Hunt of Park Rapids for a marketing campaign. It runs the new Bemidji country station, Coyote FM 102.5.

They laid out a campaign for 52 three to 3½-minute report with one a week, 1,200 30-second spots and aired on four radio stations. KK Radio would allow the $28,000 campaign to the Airport Authority for $15,000, which is eligible for a state grant at 70 percent state and 30 percent local match. That would cost the authority $4,500.

Van Leeuwen also presented a pitch from Lakeland Public Television with 120 credits of 50 prime time and 70 best available time slots and ads in its membership newspaper at $2,284. Also eligible for the state grant and match, it would cost the authority $685.20.

"We need a single integrated package," said Van Leeuwen, suggesting that the authority discuss contracting with a media agency to determine a package of media buys.

The deadline for applying for the state Air Service Market Grant program -- available only to the eight airports in Minnesota with commercial air service -- is July 1, prompting Authority Chairman Marshall Froyd to call a work session for 1 p.m. June 29 to decide on a marketing plan.

"I like the notion of competition," said Frost.

"Outdoor billboards should also be considered," said Commissioner Ron Johnson. He also suggested that the authority determine who to market to, such as radio ads in Park Rapids might appeal to potential flyers.

Van Leeuwen said that business travelers would be the primary target, as an individual business traveler can potentially save time and money flying out of Bemidji.

"A family of four would do better driving to Minneapolis for a flight," he said.

The also discussed marketing firms the Airport Authority has had previous experience. Anchor Marketing works with the authority's Web site and other matters. The authority currently has a $22,000 contract with Anchor.

Trillion Aviation continues to work on air service issues with Delta and Allegiant airlines, Van Leeuwen said, and negotiates the lease with the airport's fixed-base operator. The authority has a $16,000 contract with Trillion.

"Delta will also provide some promotionals," Van Leeuwen said, adding that Delta appears more willing to work on marketing than did Northwest Airlines.

Key will be the Bemidji Airport Authority knowing of special Delta air travel deals that can be marketed locally, he said.

In other business, the Airport Authority accepted the low bid of $225,212.77 from Johnson Construction to complete infrastructure work in the airport's West Job Opportunities Building Zone.

Commissioners talked about starting the process for an Urban Area-wide Review for the light industry area, an alternative to the more comprehensive Environmental Assessment Worksheet or Environmental Impact Statement.

The new study will be needed for actually developing and building on the West JOBZ site, Van Leeuwen said. A former environmental study concludes with the completion of infrastructure work.

Design work will also begin soon on a terminal expansion and renovation project, which is awaiting a 2009 Federal Aviation Administration Entitlement Grant approval.

The work will mean the demolition of the Civil Air Patrol building as of April 30, but Van Leeuwen said the hope is to relocated the CAP to another airport property location.