Though the meeting Tuesday between Era representatives, the council and the airport commission included many debates about air fares, other topics of discussion led to progress being made on the city's planned air travel marketing survey.
City officials hope the survey will identify ways in which the airport can be marketed and developed to bring in new businesses, more passengers and, in general, more revenue.
By the end of the session, the group had come up with a list of suggested areas for the survey to study. Several ideas were not endorsed by everyone at the meeting, but all suggestions were included so they could be discussed at later airport commission meetings.
Whether the survey should include a study of air fares was the largest point of contention, but the item was added to the list with all other suggestions. The other facets included in the original draft of the survey were again suggested, including how many people drive between Kenai and Anchorage rather than fly, and what people's final and original destinations are when they fly from or to the Kenai airport.
The original draft of the survey was presented to the council at its Sept. 4 meeting. It was designed to be conducted by Sixel Consulting Group Inc. from Oregon at a cost of $20,000. During the meeting, a question was raised as to why the project wasn't put out to bid or done locally. Kenai Mayor John Williams said there isn't a firm in Kenai to do it.
Paul Landis, senior vice president of Era Aviation, attended the meeting with two other Era representatives and was asked what he thought the survey should include. One idea was for the airport to try and draw diversionary traffic from Ted Stevens International Airport, although not many planes are diverted from there each year. The Kenai runway and control tower is capable of accommodating a 727 or 737. Currently when planes are forced to overhead Anchorage, due to fog or other conditions, they typically go to Fairbanks, Landis said.
"But you could get them," he said. "If you had the infrastructure here."
By infrastructure, Landis meant air stairs, jetways, security screening in the terminal and other such operations.
He also suggested the airport try to solicit more corporate jets to land in Kenai. According to Airport Manager Rebecca Cronkhite, the airport already handles corporate jet traffic.
In large airports, corporate jets are generally handled by a fixed base operator service, which does everything from refuel the plane and pump the lavatory to provide catering and hotel accommodations. The Kenai airport doesn't have an FBO service, Cronkhite said, so it takes on many of the duties of one itself.
"Really, I think we've done a pretty good job to work together when corporate jets come in," Cronkhite said. "We just all work together to try to make them feel really good. And we have lists and lists of corporate jets we could be servicing."
Williams was particularly interested in the survey studying what businesses could be brought to the airport and the city that could provide year-round employment and airplane passengers.
"Tourism is not what we're looking for," he said. "We're looking for something to fill the gap in employment three, five and 10 years down the road. We need to think outside the box."
Council member Duane Bannock strongly supported conducting an inventory of the airport's assets as part of the survey.
"Cheap dirt, water, a runway -- what other things do we have that are worth marketing? That's where we need to go," he said.
Other suggestions for the survey were to find out what the perceived needs of airport customers are, what the needs of the airport are, the types of businesses the airport has and what types it doesn't have but could attract, what the airport's market is, what services the city offers, the availability of grants for the airport and a comparison of taxes, fees and rates at the Kenai airport and other airports.
These suggestions will be discussed at future airport commission meetings and transformed into another draft of the survey.
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