Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport is taking flight. In 2019, the number of passengers leapt nearly ten percent from the previous year. This expansion is particularly noteworthy because it comes on the heels of 2018’s growth, when the number of passengers increased over twelve percent. That’s two years in a row of significant growth – enough to see a pattern forming.
This growth is good news for the region’s businesses as well as for travelers seeking affordable, efficient flights. “The airport is incredibly important to the community,” says Airport Director Marty Piette, A.A.E. “One of the first things businesses look for when they’re interested in moving into a new environment or a new community is access to transportation.” With nearly 30 flights a day, the airport can whisk passengers from northeastern Wisconsin and portions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to virtually any destination. “We have incredible access to the world out of Green Bay, with one-stop connections to anywhere in the world.”
The economic impact is widespread. In 2016, the airport provided $265.3 million in economic output, supported 1,719 jobs and contributed $77.2 million in labor income to the local and state economy, according to an economic impact study by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The team works hard to provide the best access possible to locals looking for convenient flights. In addition to regular flights by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, the airport has just welcomed Frontier Airlines to its roster. Frontier now offers nonstop seasonal service to Denver and Orlando, which has been a major factor in the airport’s recent uptick in passengers. These flights alone added more than 30,000 new passengers last year.
Affordability has also been key to the recent increase in passengers. “Our fares are becoming quite a bit more competitive with some of the larger area airports,” Piette says. We keep an eye on [airports in] Milwaukee, Chicago, and even Minneapolis, to remain competitive with them from an airfare standpoint.”
Green Bay is also committed to growing sustainably. New projects are viewed “from a sustainability standpoint” as airport management works to be “good stewards of our environment,” Piette says. For instance, the team is in the process of switching to LED lighting on the runways, parking lots, roadways, and other exterior areas. The change is win-win, since LED lighting is much more efficient, lasts much longer, and requires much less maintenance than traditional lighting. The team has already changed the light fixtures throughout the airport terminal to energy efficient options.
In addition, the airport has embraced geothermal energy and plans to expand its use further. The airport’s new equipment and maintenance building was designed to utilize this environmentally friendly option and the team has been pleased with the results. “We are seeing an efficient use of that building and would like to be able to expand geothermal to some of our other facilities in the future,” Piette explains. The terminal is next on the agenda and the team is currently considering solar and geothermal options for that building in order to improve the entire airport’s energy efficiency even more.
The airport is looking at sustainability at every level. Deicing, for instance, is essential to safe air travel during cold winter months when ice and snow would otherwise ground planes. “You can imagine we have a lot of deicing that takes place out here,” Piette says of the airport’s upper Midwest location. But glycol, the chemical used during this process, is harmful to the environment. The airport has a sustainable solution for the problem: the team captures all the glycol sprayed onto the aircraft by diverting it into a drain that leads to a glycol detention basin. Then, a biometric process breaks down the chemical until it is safe to discharge. The team is planning on improving this system – as well as other sustainable practices in the future. “[We are] moving forward to being good stewards of our environment,” says Piette.
The team is also moving forward with a fresh look at marketing. They launched a new marketing department in 2019 and hired a marketing communications manager to head the efforts. The new department is working to tackle the challenges of twenty first century marketing, from catching new trends in advertising to connecting with today’s modern consumers. “How do we reach those people?” Piette asks. “We’ve all seen TV commercials and billboards and we question if that is that the best way.” With social media and digital marketing to consider, “there are so many more opportunities to reach our market, so we’re looking at all of those opportunities.”
Certainly, Green Bay Austin Straubel Airport has a lot to offer – but travelers will not take advantage of the benefits if they don’t know about them.” The marketing department’s ongoing goal is to educate the public on how the airport can serve them and “how important it is for people to use this airport,” Piette says. “Part of our message is ensuring people fly local – don’t drive to the larger airports. You can actually save time; you can save money. If you look at the fares, our fares are more competitive than ever. It’s just an easy experience. We’re selling this community to the airlines.”
The team is also tasked with working closely with current and potential airlines to demonstrate that this community, this region will support that airline,” Piette says. “As the seats continue to fill, the airlines will continue to add capacity.” To help drive this greater capacity, the team is “making sure that people understand how the airlines make their decisions when they are adding or considering adding service, or cities, or even just trying to attract a new airline. And it’s worked quite well.”
The airport successfully attracted Frontier Airlines, which launched service from Green Bay to Denver in May 2019. The airline used the route as a test market, with plans to add more routes if the flights to Denver booked enough passengers. “Well, they did fantastic,” Piette says. “The community filled all of those seats to Denver.” In response, Frontier Airlines added a route to Orlando and announced that seasonal service to Denver will continue in 2020.
The team does not have free rein over which airlines and what routes will come to Green Bay Straubel Airport, but their efforts certainly help. “There are a lot of things that go into the airlines’ decisions that we don’t have control over,” Piette shares, and this list includes everything from staffing issues and pilot restrictions to fuel prices. “Fuel prices are stable now, but that can always change. So there are a lot of variables out there that affect the airlines. We just want to make sure that we maintain close relationships with them to find out what will work best for their business.”
A recent aircraft restriction is one example of an uncontrollable circumstance that has caused complications for airlines flying out of Green Bay – or anywhere else, for that matter. In March 2019, aviation authorities around the world grounded the Boeing 737 Max as a precautionary measure. “That has certainly impacted our airlines and how they make their decisions,” Piette explains.
The team has several exciting projects on the agenda for the near future. Safety will continue to be a priority, and the team plans to install new exit lane technology this year to help improve the security of the terminal building. Early next year, the team will carry out another terminal security enhancement project to improve the front entrance of the building. An ongoing focus will be to improve the aesthetics of the airport to enhance the overall passenger experience. This push will include upgrades to the terminal’s three restaurants, more comfort areas, beanbag toss, green spaces and more.
To be sure, the airport’s recent expansion, marketing campaign, and upcoming projects make for a promising future. [We have] quite a few projects coming up here in the next couple of years so it’s an exciting time. We can sustain this growth.”
This will take continued effort – which the team is ready to supply. “The growth has been incredible over the last two years,” Piette says. “I think with all these efforts [we are] putting forth we should continue to grow.”