General Mitchell International Airport represents the clearest indicator that Milwaukee is stepping up to meet – and beat – the competition for economic and business development. For years, Mitchell operated largely in the shadow of Chicago-area airports. But it now stands ready to outshine them in service, price and convenience – and is frequently cited as a hassle-free alternative to O’Hare.
The buzz about Mitchell is growing louder. While airports nationally show declines or a leveling off, GMIA is smashing records. Contributing to the record-breaking news is the increase in service to our market: Southwest beginning service in November of last year, AirTran establishing a hub this year, Republic/Frontier redefining their brand, American adding flights, along with our six other airlines. This increase in service has also meant an increase in jobs and economic impact.
Last month, an article in USA Today heralded Mitchell based on a report showing a 23.5-percent increase in number of passengers – the biggest year-over-year increase in the nation! Mitchell soared past the national numbers and remains one of the fastest-growing airports anywhere.
The record-breaking passenger tallies are notable. The most current figures for March 2010 show a 41.47-percent increase over March 2009 – reaching just shy of 900,000 passengers. The previous record was in July 2008 with 821,610. Seven consecutive record months lead to a first quarter 2010 increase of 39.57 percent over the previous year.
So what do these statistics mean for travelers using Mitchell? Travelers are accustomed to convenience with what they consider a smaller airport. But we should dispel the common misperception that they are paying a higher price for this convenience. It is significant to note that the average airfare out of Milwaukee was lower than the average at 89 other U.S. airports, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. Mitchell’s average fare was about $81 less than O’Hare’s, and $60 less than the nation’s average fare. Travelers are discovering this value and flocking to Mitchell.
Everyone appreciates how convenient it is to fly in and out of Mitchell. The lowest parking rates, cell-phone waiting lots, and an ever-increasing variety of dining options are obvious signs of convenience. Milwaukee County has invested $199 million in renovations and improvements without increasing the property tax levy. By 2012, our investments in airport improvements will exceed $340 million. Travelers see this in the concourse renovations with family-friendly amenities like play areas, shops to browse and even a Wisconsin aviation history museum. Future projects will remodel the baggage claim building and upgrade runway safety zones.
It boils down to service, price and convenience. Passengers from around Wisconsin and northern Illinois are enjoying the savings resulting from new, competitive service from Mitchell’s low-fare airlines. This busy, thriving airport is the front door to Milwaukee and will continue to drive the economic health of our area. As our airport grows, so grows our community.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is a Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor.