Milwaukee County’s airport model is a resounding success

    The higher passenger counts at Milwaukee County’s General Mitchell International Airport are no mistake. Sound oversight from Milwaukee County, and particularly the County Board, have delivered measurable results.

    Today, Mitchell International is America’s true low-fare hub. Mitchell became the fastest growing airport in the nation beginning in the fourth quarter of last year, and the nearly 40 percent increase in the first quarter of this year continues that trend. The level of passenger growth at Milwaukee is unheard of in today’s air transportation industry.

    Our success should be credited to those who provide policy direction and administration for the airport, including Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr., chairman of the County Board’s Transportation, Public Works & Transit Committee, and airport director Barry Bateman. They are both doing a wonderful job.
    Credit should also go to AirTran Airways, Republic Airways (Midwest and Frontier) and Southwest Airlines, which have all added service during the past year. AirTran recently established a hub in Milwaukee, second only to Atlanta. Republic is moving maintenance jobs here and expects to grow its Milwaukee hub further.

    Milwaukee County’s success in operating this airport demonstrates why it would be a bad idea to lease airport operations to an outside vendor.  Mitchell International uses no property tax dollars in its operation, and all revenues generated from passengers and airlines are used to maintain and improve the airport. A private operator, however, would keep profits and could put additional cost burdens on both passengers and airlines, which cannot sustain additional financial obligations in the current economic environment. A plan to privatize Chicago’s Midway Airport last year failed to get off the ground.

    Much of Mitchell Airport’s success in attracting record numbers of flights and passengers is due to the affordability of both fares and parking at the airport, as well as more frequent flight schedules. Transferring operation of the airport to a private operator, which would require federal approval, could lead to reduced flight schedules, increased parking costs and higher fares for users of the airport.

    I am proud that Mitchell International is doing so well. The increase in passengers is astonishing. Competition, along with steady oversight from Milwaukee County, are key reasons for Mitchell’s success. The County Board is effectively managing the growth of our airport. I am pleased that attempts to lease the airport to a private firm have been unsuccessful, because we may not have seen the same results.


    Lee Holloway is chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

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