SkyBusted at Bellingham

Bellingham, Washington, population 75,000, is one of those diligent US cities that fight endlessly to enhance air service to their airport, but get repeatedly burned in the process.

Take the recent announcement from no-frills start-up Skybus Airlines that A319 flights to Columbus, Ohio will be axed on January 6 – just seven months after launch. Bellingham is not the only one taking a hit; San Diego will see its Skybus service end on July 16. Of the two airports, however, there is little doubt that Bellingham will feel the most impact.

The airport had anticipated revenues would increase by $351,000 if Skybus flew once daily and about 36,000 passengers annually. Might seem like small potatos, but to Bellingham – which can call itself an international airport because tiny, Cessna operator San Juan Airlines flies to British Columbia – it was clutch. Why? Because SkyBus was advertising Bellingham as Seattle to consumers even though the two cities are a solid 90 miles apart. Had the experiment succeeded, Bellingham could have sold itself to airlines as a true reliever airport to Seattle.

There must have been some early evidence that the plan was flawed. Ah yes, here it is. In a statement released in advance of SkyBus’ May launch at Bellingham, the president of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism Bureau said the following: “Since Skybus announced service, we have received more than 60 phone calls and e-mails from people in the Columbus area wanting visitor packets.”

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