As passenger traffic continues to grow at Lehigh Valley International Airport, officials at the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority are taking steps to determine how much of their passenger increase comes from business travel.
“It’s always a difficult number for us to quantify,” said Thomas Stoudt, executive director of the LNAA, which oversees and manages the Hanover Township, Lehigh County, airport. “I don’t really know whether they are business or leisure [travelers].”
The airport reported slight growth in passenger traffic last year when compared to 2016, although traffic jumped significantly over the last quarter of 2017 when compared to the fourth quarter the prior year.
The airport authority is working on determining its business travel level through surveys, focus groups and monitoring the use of business-friendly amenities it added to the terminal area, such as workstations and the addition of a multimodal center for picking up and dropping off passengers.
Nationally, one-third of all passenger traffic at airports is business-related, Stoudt said.
“I can’t tell you if ours is higher or lower than that,” he said. “About one-third of our folks probably are business travelers.”
LIMIT TIME AT AIRPORT
The business travelers that officials talk to at LVIA are interested in getting their work done while on the go, and that’s one reason the airport added workstations for people to plug in.
“Our location and size are helpful for business travelers,” Stoudt said, noting that many are interested in quickly accessing flights.
Because of LVIA’s small size, business travelers often do not wait a long time to board a flight, he said.
“Typically, they are trying to time things so they aren’t spending a lot of time at the terminal,” Stoudt said.
In late spring, the airport plans another survey of its travelers to determine their needs.
The airport offers a frequent flier program and conducts quarterly meetings with its air service focus group, both of which are helpful for gauging business travel usage and their needs through feedback.
These sorts of things are very appealing to the business travelers, added Colin Riccoban, spokesperson for the LNAA.
WHERE COMPANIES DO BUSINESS
The air service focus group is comprised of representatives from corporations and organizations in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
They include executives from Air Products, C.F. Martin & Co., Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Lehigh Valley Health Network.
The air service group offers guidance to the airport authority in finding destinations where members of the group might be doing business, Stoudt said.
“Part of what we are trying to do certainly is to get feedback from customers,” he said.
FINDING THE AIRLINE
Frank Facchiano, chief operating officer and executive vice president of member relations for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber, has served on the air service focus group for about six years. The group helps facilitate surveys, which can be helpful in getting new routes from airlines based on corporate flying habits, he said.
“That’s one part of this equation, and finding the airline that wants to do it, that’s the challenging part,” Facchiano said.
The group shares corporate business travel plans with airport management and ultimately can help provide for existing and future needs of air transportation at the airport, he said.
Facchiano, a member of the board of governors of the airport authority, said the air service group helps the marketing arm of the airport.
‘ALWAYS A NEED TO FLY’
While the airport has great service to hubs through carriers such as American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Airlines, the airport authority plans additional surveys of passengers to determine if their travel is for business or leisure, Stoudt said.
Even in a high-tech world, the idea of connecting with people in person, particularly for meetings, could be a driver of business travel at LVIA.
“We hear plenty of times where there needs to be a face-to-face interaction with one or more folks,” Stoudt said. “There’s always a need to fly to those meetings.”