Originally created 10/17/00

Poll: Businesses prefer airport



Even with the propensity for delays and cancellations, many of the area's largest companies prefer Augusta Regional Airport over Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport or Columbia Metropolitan Airport, according to a recent survey.

Roughly 74 percent of respondents to the survey conducted by the CSRA Regional Development Center said they chose Augusta for its convenience and location. High ticket prices and delays and cancellations were cited as the biggest problems with the airport.

"The surprising thing to me was that there wasn't much leakage to the Atlanta airport, as some surveys have indicated," Augusta Mayor Bob Young said.

It was Mr. Young who requested the survey.

"There were always questions about the completeness of the old survey (in 1995). The information was dated. Admittedly, it's not the most significant survey money can buy, but I do think it's a good indication of the market."

Some airport experts have predicted Augusta is losing as much as 50 percent of its possible travelers to other airports. The number of people using the airport has declined steadily in recent years. It is predicted that roughly 205,000 people will travel through the Augusta airport in 2000.

Airport consultants say the market is nearly twice that size.

The survey targeted 62 area companies with more than 250 employees. Thirty-two companies responded. Seventy-five percent of respondents said 50 or fewer people fly when traveling on business. Eighty percent of the companies said they travel by commercial airline. Only 14 percent have a company-owned aircraft.

The top four destinations, according to the survey, were Chicago, Atlanta, New York and St. Louis.

Augusta Regional Airport offers direct service to Atlanta, Charlotte and Cincinnati. Travelers can catch connecting flights to New York, Chicago and St. Louis from those cities.

Nearly 75 percent of respondents said they spend more than $5,000 per month on travel. This 75 percent, according to the survey, shows that 32 companies spend more than $1.5 million per year on travel.

The survey suggests area businesses collectively spend more than $2.7 million annually on travel.

When asked whether business incentives would increase the number of companies using Augusta Regional Airport, 60 percent answered yes.

The study found discount pricing, a more reliable flight schedule and more direct flights would help increase use of the airport by regional companies.

Copies of the survey were sent Friday to the Air Service Task Force and the Augusta Aviation Commission, Mr. Young said.

The mail survey, a questionnaire conducted by the CSRA Regional Development Center in July, did not cost the city any money, the mayor said.

The aviation commission recently voted to appropriate up to $150,000 of its budget to conduct an in-depth market survey of passenger, cargo and other industry-related uses at the airport. The detailed survey is needed, according to aviation commission member Marcie Wilhelmi, to show prospective airlines why they should bring new service - and cheaper flights and fewer cancellations - to Augusta Regional Airport.

Augusta Regional Airport Marketing Director David Dorminey said he has yet to see the survey, but is eager to read it.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.