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Published September 26, 2009, 09:28 PM

GFK Draws Competition From Winnipeg

The increase in passengers at the Grand Forks International Airport is causing competing airports to take a hard look at the numbers. Many Canadians are able to fly out of Grand Forks for hundreds of dollars cheaper than flights from Winnipeg. And Winnipeg's airport CEO says it's time for the Canadian federal government to level the playing field.

By: Joel Porter, WDAZ

The Grand Forks International Airport has seen a jump in passengers over the past year.

With expanded flights to Phoenix starting up soon, more customers from north of the border are choosing to fly Grand forks.

And that's something airport officials in Winnipeg are taking a hard look at.

The airport authority is reporting GFK increased passenger numbers by 22 percent over the past year.

And thousands of those are travelers driving down from Winnipeg to jump on a cheaper flight.

Joel Porter/ WDAZ News: At a recent conference in Winnipeg, Airport Authority member Hal Gershman shared the recent success of the Grand Forks International Airport.

Hal Gershman/ GF Airport Authority: I started out by talking about the airport and how we were able to attract Allegiant Air to Grand Forks, primarily because of the Manitoba travelers. And that was the hook.

Joel Porter/ WDAZ News: And within days, Winnipeg's airport director began to take a hard look at the numbers. More Canadian travelers were coming to Grand Forks to fly- and save hundreds of dollars on flights to Las Vegas.

Sabrina LoPiccolo/ Allegiant Air: There is some other taxes and fees in Canada that are a little bit more expensive than the taxes and fees we have in the US, so they're able to fly for free and the value on the dollar right now is better for them anyway.

Joel Porter/ WDAZ News: We couldn't get a hold of Winnipeg Airport Authority CEO Barry Rempel today. But in a recent interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, he said that he thinks its time for the federal government to level the playing field between Canadian and American airports. Gershman says people in Manitoba know it's cheaper south of the border.

Hal Gershman/ GF Airport Authority: "CTV in Winnipeg surveyed 1800 respondents, and 69 percent said they would come to Grand Forks for lower fares to fly out of here and that's a very high percentage. "

Joel Porter/ WDAZ News: Gershman says his discussion at the conference wasn't meant to breed animosity between Grand Forks and Winnipeg. He says says the two cities and their travelers already provide revenue boosts for one another.

Hal Gershman/ GF Airport Authority: It's a natural reaction of a good business--which they are--to be concerned about any erosion of their market.

Gershman says one other aspect that attracts Canadians to Grand Forks is that they only have to clear customs once at the Pembina border crossing which is easy for them to do.

Once they're in Grand Forks, they can jump right on a flight.

That cuts down on what could be a long wait in line at Winnipeg's Richardson International Airport.

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