ALPENA - The uncertainty surrounding Delta Airlines' replacement at Alpena County Regional Airport has taken a toll on the number of people choosing to fly out of the airport. Last year the airport ended 2011 with 12,073 passengers flying out of Alpena through May 2012. The numbers have fallen in comparison, making it a challenge to match those figures.
From Jan. 1 through June 1, there were 4,064 enplanements, down from 4,649 last year. This May there were 868 flyers, a decline from 983 last year.
Airport Manager Billi McRoberts said the issue of Delta's departure and questions about who the next service provider will be may have had an effect on the number of people flying. She said the team in charge of finding Delta's replacement anticipated this and believes the numbers should improve once the situation stabilizes.
"It has dropped a little, which we expected because of the changes and a new carrier taking over," McRoberts said. "I think we will see a rebound after the new carrier takes over, though."
By surpassing 10,000 enplanements, the airport receives a $1 million subsidy from the federal government, so by not reaching that goal it will cost the airport some funding. McRoberts said it would be difficult to meet the target at the current pace tickets are being sold.
"I'm confident we can get back to the 2011 levels. I'm just not sure about this year," McRoberts said. "I think once people use the new service and see how good it is, we will be right back in the ballpark."
The fate of the airport's new air service provider is in the hands of the Department of Transportation. After a fourth request for proposal, the department is weighing its options in selecting Delta's successor. The community has supported a proposal from Sky West Airlines, which would provide a 50-seat jet and offer two weekday flights daily - one to Detroit Metro and another to Minneapolis-St. Paul International - along with a single flight to Minneapolis on the weekend. McRoberts said she hasn't received any indication from the DOT when a decision will be made, but said people are excited about the possibility of Sky West calling Alpena home.
"I haven't heard anything yet, and I'm sort of surprised by that," McRoberts said. "The people I have talked to are excited about the prospect of Sky West and the Minneapolis option. The team is going to go out into the public and promote it and encourage people to fly from Alpena and to give the new carrier as much support as we can."
Earlier this year Delta announced it was going to share flights with Pellston Regional Airport. A plane carrying passengers from Pellston would stop in Alpena and pick up the local travelers. If for some reason there were not enough seats, the Alpena passengers would get bumped. McRoberts said there were no issues with the flight "tagging" and doesn't think it played a role in why the numbers are falling.
"We didn't have any problems at all," McRoberts said. "In fact we put more passengers on the plane than Pellston did. I think people are just waiting to see what happens; the DOT should have an answer soon. Then I think we'll see the numbers come back."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.