Alpena County airport on track for $1M goal

ALPENA — It seems almost certain the Alpena County Regional Airport will surpass the number of passengers needed to receive $1 million from the Federal Aviation Administration to make improvements at the airport.

That money is allocated to the airport each year it reaches 10,000 enplanements in a calendar year. Although there is nearly four months left in the year, it seems almost certain that total will be eclipsed.

An enplanement is a paying passenger using the airport.

At Thursday’s county Airport Committee meeting, airport Manager Steve Smigelski said that, if things continue as they they have thus far, numbers should be even stronger than last year.

There airport recorded 1,320 enplanements in August, pushing the annual total thus far to 8,013, Smigelski said.

He said that, for the same time frame in 2018, the airport had 7,243 enplanements. By the end of last year, 11,917 enplanements were recorded, more than enough to get the $1 million subsidy.

Alpena County Commissioner Bob Adrian, who chairs the committee, said it was only a few years ago when the airport missed the 10,000 mark, but still received the $1 million allocation thanks to a one-time payout to airports who averaged 10,000 enplanements in 2012. Since then, the Alpena airport has seen a steady climb.

Adrian said there are two main reasons why enplanements have rebounded so strongly: Prices have come down on airfare, and a change in flight schedule included an early morning flight that allowed travelers to get to Detroit Metropolitan Airport earlier than before, giving them more options for connecting flights.

“We are more competitive, price-wise, with other airports now, and I think that is the main driving force,” Adrian said. “Now, it is more financially feasible for more people. I also think the morning flight is getting people into a hub earlier enough where they can catch a connecting flight and go elsewhere in the same day. That morning flight has really opened up the whole world, and that is important for people who fly.”

Meanwhile, a new terminal under construction at the airport is about 65% complete. Smigelski said Thursday that, if things continue to progress as they are now, a ribbon-cutting event could take place in December.

Adrian said that, if things play out the way they have in other communities that built new terminals, another increase in enplanements is near.

“We have been told by other people in the industry that we will see a bump because people are going to want to try out the new terminal,” he said. “There will be an interest in the terminal, which will allow for better customer experiences and comfort, which should lead to more people flying from here.”

Smigelski said none of the money from the $1 million FAA allocation has been used toward the terminal project or a new runway sweeper that is being purchased. He said the funds are limited to projects and purchases that improve customer safety or airport maintenance.

“We have used it for runway and taxiway markings, pavement repairs and heavy equipment like snow removal trucks and loaders,” Smigelski said. “It has to go for airport improvements and safety uses.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.