ALPENA - The Alpena County Regional Airport has enjoyed a significant increase in enplanements since SkyWest Airline took over air service last year. Over the last two months however enplanements have dipped slightly and as a result SkyWest and the airport are taking measures to boost the amount of travelers utilizing the local airport.
One of the main complaints about the current air service is there isn't a morning flight offered and on occasion people would have to wait hours or almost a day to catch their connecting flight in Detroit or Minneapolis.
Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krawczak, who played a key role in luring SkyWest to Alpena, said SkyWest has lowered its round trip to Detroit ticket price to $127 and to Minneapolis to $153. She said the airport, airline and chamber are going to ramp up the effort to educate the community and businesses about the importance of using the local airline. Right now the airport is about halfway through a two-year contract with SkyWest and Krawczak said the airline still intends to bid for Alpena's service when the contract expires, but wants to be sure the airport continues to attract the travelers it needs to be profitable.
"It is a business and there was a decline and they want to keep an eye on it," Krawczak said. "They didn't tell us we need to get the numbers up or they are leaving or anything like that, but if the community wants to keep SkyWest and the great service it provides, then we have to support them."
Because there is no morning flight locally, some travelers are choosing to fly out of other airports. In order to have the current schedule changed and have an earlier flight added, residents have to prove to the airline that an earlier flight will be profitable because it would have to alter flights from another airport it services.
"We have to support SkyWest if we hope to get a better schedule. They are very limited by what they can do right now. They have eight planes and would like to add a ninth, but because of certain circumstances they aren't able to," Krawczak said. "They schedule the planes for what works for their business, so to get a better schedule we have to show full utilization of what we currently have."
Krawczak said Alpena is confident if the airport got an early flight it would be popular and in high demand, but first the community has to prove it to them by filling the flights it has now.
Airport Manager Billi McRoberts said it is important to continue to remind the community and everyone involved that flying out of Alpena is the only way to ensure SkyWest wants to stay in Alpena. She said with the high number of enplanements the airport has had over the last year, the drop has motivated everyone.
"Maybe this is a wakeup call and reminder that we can't get lax," McRoberts said. "We have to continue to support SkyWest even if our enplanements are up. We can't take it for granted and we have to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure the numbers remain strong."
McRoberts said she thinks a "leak study needs to be done to see how many Northeast Michigan people are traveling out of other airports and why." She said she is in the process of trying to get the $10,000 needed for the study and when the results come in measures can be taken to lure them back to the airport in Alpena and SkyWest. McRoberts said the money can't be taken from the $1 million subsidy that it receives from the FAA for reaching $10,000 enplanements last year.
"I'm trying to find the funds," McRoberts said. "There may be some money available from the state, but we need to find out how much and when. Sometimes the grant process takes months and we don't want to wait months to do the study.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com