On July 20, letter writer K. Jeter raised concerns about spending money on an expansion project at Bush Field before leaders can figure out why an airline ticket out of Augusta can be sometimes hundreds of dollars more than the same ticket purchased at Atlanta's international airport.
Well, the answer has long been known. It's the lack of airline competition in Augusta's market. When you have a situation where only two carriers serve a market, and is really dominated by only one (Delta), then the laws of economics dictate that prices will be higher than a competitive air market like Atlanta which is served by a multitude of airlines, with flights leaving all the time.
If we ever hope to see reasonable air fares in Augusta and routes that Augustans want, then we must embark on initiatives that will encourage competition at Bush Field. For far too long, Augusta leaders have bent over backward to appease Delta, and assure them of their domination of the Augusta market; now look how Delta has rewarded Augusta for its loyalty.
I believe building a bigger terminal facility is the first step in encouraging competition. If Augusta wants to attract the attention of other carriers, especially discounters such as Airtran and Southwest, then we must provide the terminal space they'll need, and make it cost effective for them to do business here.
Southwest made a conscious decision to locate in the Birmingham, Ala., airport instead of Hartsfield, because its lower cost of operations was consistent with Southwest's philosophy of offering superior service at lower cost.
Augusta's distance from Hartsfield is about the same as Birmingham's.
Augusta has a tremendous opportunity to poise itself as a regional hub, but not if the facilities stay as they are. But just building it and expecting they will come is foolhardy. Augusta must develop a comprehensive strategy for encouraging additional airlines, with an emphasis on discounters, to operate at Bush Field, and we have to make it cost effective for them. We have to give them a better deal than Hartsfield. Let's study the successes of cities like Chattanooga, Savannah and Birmingham, but let's not sit on our hands too long and let a great opportunity pass by, like Augusta has done so many times before.
Nick Reece, Augusta