ALPENA - The Department of Transportation's decision to select SkyWest as Delta Airlines' replacement at Alpena County Regional Airport has eased concerns on several local fronts. Not only won't travelers be significantly affected, but neither will ongoing and future projects in the area.
Alpena County commissioners are in the final stages of a project at the airport. Details about the possible business venture are limited due to a confidentiality agreement, but according to Commissioner Cam Habermehl, if the airport was not able to find a viable substitute for Delta, the likelihood of the project becoming a reality could have been reduced.
"The airline issue was going to be a great part of it, and I was concerned that if we didn't have quality air service it would affect the project," Habermehl said. "I think we have pretty much averted that now, though, and I think the new service is going to actually be better than what we had before. I think it is a great fit for Alpena, because you will still be able to use your Delta miles, and for the most part things will be the same. Now it is important everyone get out and support them."
It has been announced the airport is in contention to become a testing and training facility for U.S. drone aircrafts, but this is not the confirmed county project.
Economic development projects also could have been affected locally without the SkyWest selection. Target Alpena Executive Director Jim Klarich, a member of the team that pursued a new carrier, said not only would development projects under way have been affected, but the ability to persuade new developers to Alpena would have been hampered as well.
"Places such as the bio-refinery, NOAA and Lafarge would have been affected for sure, and if we wouldn't have been successful in gaining quality air service, it would have been very difficult for people to get here to make capital investments," Klarich said. "Would you want to invest somewhere you couldn't get to? There were a few eyebrows raised by potential investors, but for the most part, most of them took the wait-and-see approach.
"Really this isn't the end to this, though. The people are going to have to support SkyWest, or in two years we could be looking at the same thing. We were fortunate enough to get them here, now we have to prove to them they made the right decision."
SkyWest plans to take over for Delta some time in the fall, and a smooth transition is expected to take place. The airline will provide two trips a day during the week, one to Detroit Metro and a second to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. It also will have weekend flights to Minnesota.
SkyWest placed its bid in the fourth and final round of bid requestes by the DOT and beat out three smaller airlines to get the Alpena job. The proposal was for two years and more and $3 million annually in federal Essential Air Service funds.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.