Airport reaches 10,000 enplanements

ALPENA — Alpena County Regional Airport has surpassed the 10,000 enplanement mark a month before the end of the year and will receive a $1 million subsidy from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airport failed to reach the plateau last year, but still received the $1 million from the FAA thanks to one-time legislation out of Washington.

Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said in November there were 898 enplanements, which is up from November 2016 when there were 739. He said the year-to-date total is 10,022 with a month to go. Last year the airport fell short of 10,000 enplanements and ended 2016 with 9,183.

Smigelski said numbers have been solid all year and to reach 10,000 enplanements early takes a lot of drama and stress away from the county and airport staff.

“It is a relief to hit it early and shows we are doing things the right way and thankfully people are choosing to fly out of Alpena again,” he said.

Smigelski said there were two changes at the airport that he believes helped to bolster enplanements. He said a schedule change that provided an early morning flight to Detroit and a better selection of connecting flights was one, and lower airfare was another. Lower prices began being offered in January and Smigelski said travelers took advantage of them.

“I think we all know it was kind of expensive to fly out of Alpena, but SkyWest and Delta Airlines adjusted the pricing to make us more competitive and that helped I think,” Smigelski said.

Enplanements could have been higher, but there were several incidents where the airport needed to be closed and flights were canceled, Smigelski said.

In July an armed A-10 jet crash landed at the airport, which caused it to close for several days while the military secured the area, unarmed the plane and removed it. Smigelski said there also were some icing events in Alpena and at other airports that caused cancellations. Despite those incidents, Smigelski said the airport thrived and expects it to continue.

“I think the future is looking good and I’m confident we’ll be able to sustain these types or numbers,” he said. “I hope we can build on them and make them even stronger.”

SkyWest’s contract with the FAA for service in Alpena is scheduled to expire at the end of 2018, but Smigelski said he believes the airline intends to bid on the service when the FAA issues requests for proposals in April. He said it is possible a new contract could be signed in October.

“SkyWest has told us verbally that it loves Alpena and intends on bidding again,” Smigelski said.

The enplanement rebound is welcome because if it would have fallen below 10,000, the county would have only received $150,000 from the FFA. Last year the airport received its full subsidy despite falling short thank to Senate Act 239, which allowed small rural airports a one time opportunity to get the funding despite low enplanement numbers. The one-time only exemptions used enplanement numbers from 2012 to determine the $41 million funding and in that year Alpena exceeded the 10,000 goal.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.