Alpena airport runway closure could reduce chance of federal government subsidy

News File Photo A Delta jet used by SkyWest is shown parked in Alpena County Regional Airport in this 2022 News file photo. The main runway at the airport will close for two to three months during a large reconstruction project starting in May.

ALPENA — The planned closure of the main runway at the Alpena County Regional Airport could significantly impact its enplanements and reduce the odds of it receiving a $1 million subsidy from the federal government.

Last week, it was announced that the main runway at the airport will close for two to three months during a large reconstruction project.

The primary runway is expected to be out of commission beginning in early May and will impact the late spring and mid-summer travel seasons when enplanements are typically at their peak.

An enplanement is a paying passenger at the airport and in years the airport reaches 10,000 enplanements, it receives the money from the government via the Essential Air Service program.

An alternate runway was chosen to handle the planes landing and taking off, but air-service provider SkyWest Airlines has elected not to use it because it lacks a significant lighting system and an instrumented landing system that pilots utilize.

Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said SkyWest indicated to him that the decision was made in the interest of passenger safety.

Smigelski said he examined data from last year and estimates more than 2,000 enplanements could be lost if travel patterns mirror those from 2022.

“It is going to put a dent in them, but we’ll have to wait and see if that dent is big enough to worry about,” Smigelski said.

Last year the airport reported just under 13,000 enplanements, including 973 in May, 1,062 in June, and 1,676 in July.

If those types of numbers are lost this year, reaching the 10,000 mark this year becomes dicey, especially if travel patterns change, or the project suffers any delays.

Smigelski said when the project is completed and he knows how many passengers were lost due to the construction, it will be clearer to project how close, or far, the airport will be from the 10,000 enplanement goal.

He said if it is clear that goal won’t be reached, there is a chance the airport could recapture the lost EAS subsidy.

“I’ve been told we can apply for a waiver because the reason was for construction,” he said. “This may be a case where we are eligible for a waiver, but we will have to wait and see.”

SkyWest is under contract with the federal government to provide commercial air service to and from Alpena. Every two years, the Federal Aviation Administration requests bid proposals for the service and SkyWest was selected again last year.

Smigelski said the county, airport, and the airline have a good relationship and praised its service.

It remains to be seen whether SkyWest receives all of the $5.5 million it is promised in the federal contract when it will not provide flights for several months, or if that amount will be prorated because of the inactivity.

“I informed the Department of Transportation of the move and the DOT acknowledged it,” Smigelski said. “I’m guessing if they are pausing service, there would be an adjustment, but I don’t know for sure. But, they have been paid to do it.”

U.S. Department of Transportation Aviation Industry Analyst Michael Martin referred The News to the department’s press office for comment about any impact on SkyWest’s contract and a response is expected in the coming days.

The runway project has a $45 million price tag on it, but the county is only paying $13 million of that amount. The country is utilizing $13 million of the $18 million it received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in 2020.

This phase of the project is only the first of several phases. Work also needs to be done to nearly 2,000 feet at the two ends of the runway. The military is paying the estimated $30 million to complete phase two. When the project reaches that point, it is not expected to impact SkyWest operations.


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