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Oakland County International Airport, long popular with executive travelers, is about to offer passenger service to Chicago.

In June, Lakeshore Express will begin scheduled flights four days a week from Waterford Township to Chicago’s Midway International Airport. The airline, operated by Pentastar Aviation Charter Inc., has flown to Chicago out of Pellston Regional Airport in northern Michigan since 2011, and will continue to do so.

County economic officials hope the service is a boon to the region; aviation experts said the offering should appeal to residents who like weekend travel to Chicago for shopping along the Magnificent Mile and other Windy City attractions.

“In Oakland County, there’s a need for our type of service,” said Jason Ribits, Lakeshore director of sales and marketing. “We’ll be saving people a lot of time and providing a more efficient way (to travel).”

The airline will use a Saab 340B plane that holds 30 passengers. There’s no baggage fee, but each passenger is limited to one carry-on and one bag of up to 35 pounds. Parking, in-flight drinks and snacks are free, and Ribits said passengers have to arrive only 30 minutes before takeoff, as opposed to the recommended two hours to park, check in, go through screening and get to the gate at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

Lakeshore also promises legroom found in first-class seating.

“Flying used to be considered an event, a fun experience, and that’s something we’re looking to try and bring back,” Ribits said.

Lakeshore’s round-trip flights to the Windy City will cost $218. Flights to Chicago from Metro on carriers such as Delta, Southwest, AirTran and others offer comparable fares, starting around $200.

Lakeshore joins an already-busy airport. Oakland County International Airport is the world’s 12th busiest general aviation airport, which generally handles smaller, private planes and corporate jets. It has an average of 120,000 takeoffs and landings annually, according to its website. More than 150 corporations keep aircraft there, and it houses more than 550 residential aircraft.

Dan Hunter, deputy director of Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs, said the airport is an obvious choice for the service Lakeshore provides.

“The facilities are top notch, and it’s reasonably located,” he said.

“It’s an experiment,” he said. “Time is money. For the business traveler that might need to get over and back in a day … that may be attractive.”

Scott Wintner, a Detroit Metropolitan Airport spokesman, said Michigan’s largest airport likely will always offer more frequent flights, but he hopes Lakeshore does well in Oakland County.

“Our attitude has always been any growth in air service is a good thing for our region,” he said.

“I think what our airlines offer is a very different product. If there’s room for more products in the area, then the more the merrier.”

Roger Cohen, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Regional Airlines Association, said Lakeshore Express could fill a need in an on-the-go society.

“To be connected to the global economy, any community needs two things: Internet and scheduled air service,” he said. “We expect more and more new business models as airlines develop innovative opportunities to serve these markets.”

From Oakland County, Lakeshore flights will run Thursday through Sunday, according to the airline’s website. Two flights will be offered out of Oakland County on Thursday; one on Friday and one on Sunday. One flight will depart Midway, daily.

Kelley Atkins, Pellston airport manager, said Lakeshore has succeeded since launching service there. “It’s gone really smooth here,” he said. “It’s been a great asset to the airport.”

During its busy summer season, as many as 100 flights a day take off from the airport, Atkins said. Pellston offers other passenger service through Delta Airlines.

Lakeshore Express began in 2010 when CEO Greg Stallkamp, a native Michiganian, moved to Chicago and met a number of transplanted Michigan residents looking for an easier way to visit the Great Lakes State.

“He saw a need based on a lack of air service options at the time,” Ribits said. “The next natural step is to position ourselves in the Metro Detroit market.”

Lakeshore hopes to grow, and Ribits said it’s taking a look at potentially adding a Pellston-to-Oakland County leg.

Until then, though, the company thinks its new way of getting to Chicago will be appreciated.

“We still think this route is providing something that’s actually needed,” Ribits said. “We think it should be a pretty popular thing.”

From The Detroit News: