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OUR OPINION: Honeymoon with Vegas

The showgirl was a great touch. And having her at the press conference nicely communicated the excitement of Grand Forks' new nonstop air service to Las Vegas.

The showgirl was a great touch. And having her at the press conference nicely communicated the excitement of Grand Forks' new nonstop air service to Las Vegas.

Starting Sept. 29, Allegiant Air will offer the flights twice a week, Herald staff writer Ryan Schuster reported.

That's terrific news for Grand Forks and a credit to airport and city officials, who worked long and hard to land the carrier. Allegiant deserves thanks as well for taking a chance on Grand Forks.

Residents now should help make sure that the airline's gamble pays off.

Managing an airport the size of Grand Forks International is a tough, tough business. That's because the public expects something from you -- air service -- that is not in your power to deliver.

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Only private airlines can offer that service, and they are a temperamental and flighty (excuse the pun) bunch. The airport management simply is a landlord that tries to make the terms of its lease as attractive as possible. So, airport board members and staff spend countless hours acting as salespeople, pitching the airport and its market in an effort to woo skeptical airlines to boost service.

That has never been an easy job at GFK or other small-city airports. And lately, it has become almost impossible: The rise in fuel prices has pushed airlines to slash service rather than increase it.

The situation is to the point where some small-city airports have lost commercial air service completely. The New York Times reported on this in May:

"Earlier this decade, city officials in Hagerstown, Md., started making the case to build a longer runway at their airport to lure service by regional jets, instead of the turboprop planes that provided its only flights," according to the newspaper.

"Several years and $61.4 million later, the city opened its concrete welcome mat, a new 7,000 foot runway, last November -- two months after the airport lost scheduled air service altogether. ... Financially strapped airlines are cutting service, and nearly 30 cities across the U.S. have seen their scheduled service disappear in the last year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Others include New Haven, Conn.; Wilmington, Del.; Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; and Boulder City, Nev."

So, that's the national context -- and the reason why Tuesday's announcement was such great news. Because if Grand Forks' airport can add service at a time when other airports are losing theirs, that boosts the odds of our own airport's survival and growth.

Again, congratulations to airport and city officials, especially for recognizing the Winnipeg market's potential. The dynamics of ticket pricing mean Winnipeggers often can fly more cheaply out of Grand Forks than out of their own airport. So, just as the ticket prices out of Fargo have drawn many Grand Forks-area passengers in the past, the ticket prices from Grand Forks are likely to draw many Canadians.

Airport officials now must watch and be ready for the Winnipeg airport's response.

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By the way, the Grand Forks-Fargo disparity is less than what it used to be, frequent flyers say. That fact, coupled with Tuesday's announcement about Allegiant Air and the recent word that a new GFK terminal will start being built next year, caps a period at the airport of welcome good news.

Area residents now can do their part by flying out of the Grand Forks airport whenever possible.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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