ALPENA - September was an important month for the Alpena County Regional Airport. It was the first month with SkyWest as the airport's air service provider and after seeing a decline in the amount of passengers earlier in the year it was important to see occupancy rates bounce back now that the new carrier is in place.
That is precisely what happened, as the total amount of enplanements in September came in at 1,325, which is a 26 percent increase from the 1,051 enplanements for the same time period last year when it was unclear who would provide service, or if there would be any at all.
Airport Manager Billi McRoberts said the beginning of this year was not as strong as 2011, when the airport broke 10,000 enplanements which earned a $1 million subsidy from the Federal Aviation Administration. She said now that many of the concerns have been put to rest and SkyWest is in place she expects the number moving forward to be more positive.
"I was very pleased to see the increase because we were having negative numbers percentage wise compared to 2011, but now they are climbing," McRoberts said. "The drops really started when Delta announced they were going to be piggy backing flights with Pellston and people were uneasy because of the chance of getting bumped."
In 2012 through September the total number of enplanements are down by 310. Last year there were a total of 9,124 enplanements compared to 8,814 so far in 2012. McRoberts said because SkyWest is providing flights that are dependable and on time she believes more travelers will choose to fly out of Alpena rather than book a flight through an out of town airport.
"Personally I think the numbers are going to stay positive, but it is always hard to tell," McRoberts said. "I think now that we have service that predictable, which wasn't always the case with our last provider, people will take advantage of it. When people get to the airport they want to know that there is a flight and what time it is going to leave. They want to know these things when they get here, not have to wait and not know what is going to happen."
There is one area where SkyWest hopes to see improvement at the airport in Alpena. She said the airline hopes to have more passengers fly to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to catch connecting flights or just to spend time in our neighboring state.
"They are a little concerned with the boardings to Minneapolis, but looking at the flights recently I think they are improving," McRoberts said. "I think we are starting to see the benefits from the advertising being done with the Mall of America. There really is a lot of things to do in Minneapolis and it would be great just for a short trip to do some shopping. I think more people will begin to do that type of thing."
With the solid September it is almost certain the airport will reach the 10,000 enplanement plateau and earn another $1 million subsidy. McRoberts said in the past the airport fell short of the mark and to surpass it in consecutive years is a real step in the right direction.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5689.