The Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport Commission on Tuesday authorized appropriating up to $200,000 toward the cost of a strategic plan for the airport’s future growth and development.
Commission Chairman Jim Ellis said airport officials are seeking additional funds from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and state economic development and transportation agencies for a planning study that could cost $400,000 to $600,000, depending on the scope.
Ellis said the objective is to develop strategies that will lead to more and better service at lower cost for travelers flying into and out of Metro Airport.
“A strategic plan going forward is really important for us,” Ellis said after the meeting.
The move to approve funding for the strategic plan came as the commission also voted to seek $1.5 million from the state’s aviation trust fund to be used as incentives for airlines to offer better service, such as more nonstop flights to popular destinations.
Airport commissioners reviewed a consultant’s report detailing the number of passengers from its primary market areas that it is losing to other airports, chiefly Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in Kenner.
The report by InterVISTAS Consulting, of Bethesda, Md., said there were 881,561 airline passengers in Baton Rouge Metro Airport’s primary “catchment area.”
The report said only 405,751, or 46 percent, flew in and out of the local airport. Some 337,029, or 36 percent, flew in and out of New Orleans, while 132,080, or 15 percent, flew in an out of Lafayette.
Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport commissioners are seeking ways to stop that “leakage” and attract more passengers.
Airport Director Anthony Marino said New Orleans is always going to have an advantage because it is a destination city for tourists and convention goers.
However, Marino said, there is enough demand for service by leisure and business travelers that Baton Rouge Metro Airport would be able to attract many more passengers if the airlines offered more direct flights and lower fares.
Ellis said the airport needs to work hard to attract a low-cost air carrier to offer daily flights to Houston.
“In my personal opinion, Continental (Airlines) does not serve us well,” Ellis said. “Their fares are through the roof.”
He said the service offered by Delta Airlines and its affiliates has also been less than satisfactory.
“I think we need to take a little bit more aggressive approach,” Ellis said. “I think there are some people who need a wake-up call at Baton Rouge Airport.”
In other business on Tuesday, airport commissioners voted after lengthy discussion to authorize an increase in a fee charged on car rental transactions at the airport from $3.75 to $6 per day.
The additional revenue from the fee increase is needed to make sure the airport can pay its debt service obligations on a new parking garage, terminal improvements and other construction projects, Marino said.
The fee increase could be reduced if the economy improves and passenger ticketing picks up, generating more revenue, he said.