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Alpena airport’s rebound continues

Courtesy Photo

ALPENA — The number of people flying out of the Alpena County Regional Airport so far this year is down a touch compared to the first two months of last year.

In his monthly update on enplanements at the airport, Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said that, through the end of February, the airport had 1,190 paying passengers, down from the 1,341 posted for the same timespan in 2023.

The totals would likely be closer if the airport hadn’t closed and canceled flights because of poor weather earlier this year.

Last month, the airport had 611 enplanements, about on par with the 633 paid ticket holders in February of last year.

If the airport reaches 10,000 enplanements in a calendar year, the airport receives a $1 million subsidy from the federal government to support operations.

Last year, the airport did not meet the 10,000 enplanement goal, as a large runway reconstruction project forced SkyWest Airlines to pause all commercial flights during the project.

The airport closed its main runway from May until late July for the project, but SkyWest Airlines didn’t resume flights until August.

Smigelski said last month that the airport has filed a waiver with the federal government and should receive the $1 million even though the airport missed the 10,000-enplanement target.

In 2022, the airport reported just fewer than 13,000 enplanements, but that number fell to 7,247 enplanements last year because of the construction.

At the current pace, the airport should come close to meeting its enplanement goal by the end of the year, Smigelski said. He said the next few weeks will be a good indicator of how the rest of the year will play out.

“I think we’ll make it,” he said. “January was kind of tough, but we had a good February, despite one stretch of poor weather. March will be telling for us, as we typically have a lot of people traveling for spring break.”

Smigelski said the Federal Aviation Administration could wait to rule on the waiver request for the $1 million from 2023 until the end of the year. He said the feds may want to see if the airport reaches the 10,000-enplanement plateau this year to be sure things are back on track.

The total cost of the runway renovation project was about $50 million, but the federal government paid the bulk of the cost. Alpena County used a large portion of the nearly $18 million the airport received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to cover its share.

Earlier this month, the airport in Alpena was recognized as the 2024 recipient of the Air Carrier Airport of the Year Award. The award was announced on Feb. 22 at the Michigan Airport Conference held in Lansing.

“This is an important award because only one airport in Michigan gets it,” Smiglski said after receiving the award. “It is humbling to receive and I really wasn’t expecting it.”

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