FLINT, Michigan — Bishop International Airport’s challenge is a unique one: It’s got plenty of potential passengers; it needs more seats to put them in.
The big target now is expanding service West and the airport eyeing key opportunities in destinations such as Denver, Dallas and Las Vegas, said air service consultant Brad DiFiore of Ailevon Pacific.
And, there is a special focus on Las Vegas.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Las Vegas is also the headquarters for Allegiant — the low-cost airline that earlier this year took the reigns as Bishop’s largest airline, accounting for more than 40 percent of passengers with four nonstop Florida destinations.
“That is a market that we are putting a lot of emphasis on and hoping we can have a flight to Vegas return to this airport in the next couple of years,” DiFiore said.
Southwest Airlines most recently provided nonstop service to Las Vegas from Flint, but ended that service in 2016. Last year, the carrier stopped its Flint service — a major blow to the airport that resulted in both fewer flights and fewer passengers.
Again, Allegiant is dramatically mitigating that impact in 2019 though. By the end of the year, DiFiore estimates that Allegiant will have replaced 80 percent of the traffic lost with Southwest’s departure.
“Despite some of the air service changes that have happened in the last year, I’m really confident that were in a good position. … Our strategy is bringing more seats into the marketplace,” Airport Director Craig Williams said.
Last month, American Airlines announced it would add service from Flint to Charlotte, North Carolina — opening a gateway to American's southern hub and major international hubs such as London, Rome, Frankfort and Belize City.
Related story: New Bishop Airport service opens gateway to 175 destinations
“It will be the leisure market that drives growth here,” DiFiore said.
He sees opportunities for Flint to expand services to larger hubs in the western market that dominate traffic to places Americans to go on vacation.
To add more seats, Bishop is focusing on working with airlines currently serving Flint to add larger planes and increasing flights to major hubs (such as American Airlines addition of Charlotte). The next step is adding new carriers — “and that is hard to do. It’s like bringing a new factory to town,” Williams said.
The focus is on bringing more low-cost airlines such as Spirit, Sun Country, and Frontier to Flint, which DiFiore also saw as a good fit at Bishop.
“Airlines have all the data in the world and will respond to what people want here,” Williams said.
Willliams said it is especially encouraging to hear DiFiore talk about both short- and long-term opportunities for growth at Bishop.
“We think any win here is a win for the region, and I really, whole-heartedly believe that,” Williams said.