ALPENA - The winter weather hasn't had a large impact on the number of enplanements for SkyWest and Alpena County Regional Airport, as the number of people utilizing the new air service continues increase.
So far this year the airport is ahead of last year, when it posted 12,653 enplanements despite dealing with uncertainty about what airlines would replace Delta at the airport.
The number of flyers choosing to use SkyWest and fly locally this year is up when looking at year-over-year statistics. Airport Manager Billi McRoberts said in January the airport had 1,334 enplanements, which is about a 75 percent increase from 2012 when there were only 763. She said things have slowed down a little in February due to several winter storms that hit up north as well as in the southern part of Michigan. She said the impact was limited however and that the monthly numbers, which will be released early in March, won't be far from what were anticipated.
"We've had a few cancellations and delays due to the weather, but not anymore than what we expected," McRoberts said. "There was some bad weather here and in Detroit and the passengers were accommodated. For this month I think we will beat the numbers from last year, even though it might be a little less than what's expected."
McRoberts said she thinks the increase in the number of enplanements is due to SkyWest's service, its affordable prices, and the added flight to Minneapolis. She said she thinks there is also a conscience effort being made by people to use the airport in Alpena because people understand it is imperative they support SkyWest so the airport doesn't find itself searching for another airline when SkyWest's two-year agreement expires. McRoberts said to this point the airline has been impressed with how it has been received. On Thursday the airline sent a representative to the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner, which shows the relationship between the Alpena area and SkyWest is strong.
"SkyWest is pleased with the amount of support it has gotten from the community," McRoberts said. "So far everything has gone really well. I think the people know the service is better."
Because of the increased traffic at the airport there has been an issue with how passengers are screened. Currently a passenger holding area at the airport has reached its capacity on several occasions and when that occurs it slows down the time it takes to get people checked in and on the plane. After communicating with SkyWest, the Alpena County Board of Commissioners and McRoberts decided to expand the holding area to increase its capacity. McRoberts said she has received a grant to have the work done and the county's match will only be 2.5 percent of the cost. She said the project is moving along and expects construction to begin soon and completed in a few months.
"The contractors are working on the site design and will have a sight visit, which is protocol and I am hopeful we can have this done relatively soon," McRoberts said. "I think it should be done in the late spring or early summer. At this point I think we have a rough idea of what the cost of the project will be, but I'm not comfortable speculating on it too much."
For the last two years the airport has exceeded the 10,000 enplanement mark, which is a benchmark the Federal Aviation Administration uses when it allocates subsidy money. By surpassing 10,000 the airport receives $1 million that can be used for capital improvements. The airport currently has designs done for a new terminal, T-hangars and runway improvements in its 10-year capital improvement plan and the money from the FAA can be used on those. If indicaters from early this year continue, the airport may have another $1 million to help cover the cost of those future plans.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.