MSP still a growing world gateway

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 25, 2012 - 12:19 AM

A study shows international travel through Minneapolis-St. Paul rose 6.2 percent between 2003 and 2011, topping peer markets like Detroit.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: 945 departures from MSP during 2012

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Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport held its own over the last decade as a hub for international air travel, according to a study out Thursday.

International traffic through the Twin Cities increased 6.2 percent between 2003 and 2011, a smaller rate than growth centers such as Dallas but greater than peer markets like Detroit, said the Brookings Institution in a report called "Global Gateways: International Aviation in Metropolitan America."

But the chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Dan Boivin, said he is not satisfied that MSP is at the top of its game as an international gateway.

"We continue to push our airline partner [Delta Air Lines] and are trying to get new ones to come here," Boivin said in an interview Wednesday. "There are certain markets where we would like to see direct nonstop service."

Boivin said the MAC has talked to Lufthansa about European connections and would like service to Italy.

The Twin Cities is home to 19 Fortune 500 companies, so there is plenty of room for growth in corporate travel overseas, Boivin said. He cited General Mills' growth in India and 3M's business interests in Brazil as examples.

According to the Brookings study, international travel out of the Dallas-Fort Worth market jumped 24 percent in the past nine years, but international travel out of Detroit, a former hub of Northwest Airlines, dropped 0.1 percent and international traffic in Cincinnati, a current Delta hub, dropped 0.4 percent. The San Diego and Philadelphia markets grew about the same as MSP.

Delta inherited a fairly strong international network in the Twin Cities when it acquired Northwest Airlines in 2009 and to a large degree has maintained that network with a new mix of aircraft.

"Minneapolis is an important international gateway and a strong market," Delta spokesman Anthony Black said Wednesday. "We're focused on being more disciplined on a capacity basis and matching routes with aircraft."

It appears that 2012 has been a strong international travel year in the Twin Cities among higher-paying business travelers. Likewise, 2013 may be a good year for leisure opportunities as well. Just this week, Air France announced that it will add seasonal nonstop service at MSP to Paris from May until September.

Diana Waltz, corporate account manager for the Travel Leaders agency in downtown Minneapolis, said international travel bookings among her clients are up 15 percent this year, and growing.

"We're thrilled," Waltz said, noting her corporate books include direct flights to Paris, London, Amsterdam and Tokyo with connections to Asia and other European destinations, most of it on Delta. "I think Delta is paying quite a bit of attention to the international market and our clients."

Brent Eisenach, an airline analyst for the CWT Solutions division of Carlson Wagonlit Travel, said international passenger traffic and available seats have been flat in the Twin Cities in recent years but airlines have made adjustments in the types of aircraft they're flying so they can schedule more flights and provide more travel options.

"They're utilizing the aircraft more efficiently," said Eisenach, noting 90 percent of the international flights out of the Twin Cities are flown by Delta. "More frequency means more business and more share. International flights have higher yields and higher ticket prices. They are focusing on areas where they can generate the most revenue."

Infrastructure issues

According to the Brookings study, international air traffic to and from the Twin Cities climbed from nearly 1.7 million passengers in 2003 to nearly 1.8 million this year.

Overall, the study said, international air travel in the United States has doubled in the last 20 years and has put a strain on resources at the nation's busiest airport hubs.

"Operational breakdowns in just one of the major gateways can have serious consequences, at any given moment, for travelers across the country and even around the world," said Rob Puentes, a senior Brookings fellow.

The study said the nation's 100 largest airports, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, handle 96 percent of all international traffic but receive just 36 percent of federal funds for infrastructure maintenance and improvements.

One of the pressing infrastructure needs in the Twin Cities is an improved international arrival facility to handle more than one large carrier at a time. Boivin said MAC hopes to have a new facility in place within two years.

"We want a better user experience," he said.

The Brookings study noted that improving international aviation connections is good for local economies.

"By learning more about these flows [of traffic], policymakers can better understand how to take advantage of aviation-driven growth in the global marketplace," said senior research associate Adie Tomer.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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