DERRY — Director Ted Kitchens says Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is “working hard” to secure another low-cost airline carrier to capture passenger demand being lost to Boston.
At a Tuesday morning chamber of commerce event in Derry, Kitchens told a group of local business owners that he’s been in talks with a number of well-known low-cost airlines.
Increasing capacity, he said, is the key to regaining customers who are driving to Logan International Airport.
During the presentation, Kitchens outlined the challenges faced by the airport, and some ways he hopes to overcome them.
Aside from attracting a low-cost carrier, Kitchens said he’s creating more data-based strategies, airlines are adding some new direct flights and he will be launching a targeted ad campaign to convince people in the state to choose Manchester over Boston.
Manchester is currently served by four major airlines: Southwest, American Airlines, United and Delta, the latter three through their regional partner carriers.
Kitchens said the the most successful years at the airport were marked by the presence of a low-cost carrier, which was then Southwest. Since the Great Recession, and the subsequent culling and consolidation of airlines, Manchester no longer has a true low-cost carrier, Kitchens said.
When you factor in regional carrier flights under the major brands, the four airlines serving Manchester make up 90 percent of the domestic seat miles in the country.
“We have undone the benefits of deregulation in 1978 by allowing all these mergers to occur,” Kitchens said.
Because the airport has fewer flights, the cost per “enplanement” — the number of individuals getting on planes — has risen, making it difficult for the airport to compete with Boston. By that metric, the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is now the fifth most expensive small hub airport in the country. But more carriers in Manchester would solve that problem, Kitchens said.
All this results in a leakage of demand to Boston. Passenger demand is increasing overall, but Manchester is getting an increasingly smaller piece of the pie. Kitchens said the state has lost $400,000 to $500,000 in annual economic impact since 2009.
Kitchens has spent a few thousand dollars for access to market databases to determine the areas where the most passengers are choosing Boston over Manchester. The airport will follow that research up with a digital ad campaign targeting those areas this summer.
“We actually increased our marketing budget for the first time in 10 years,” Kitchens said.
Tuesday’s chamber of commerce event was hosted by the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce at the Brookstone Park event center.
On Saturday, Kitchens will also be hosting a free Q&A event at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire in Londonderry at 11 a.m.