Enplanements continue to rise at airport

ALPENA – The second half of the calendar year is typically the busiest at Alpena County Regional Airport, as enplanements typically surge. That is expected to be the case again this year even though there may be some minor inconveniences for passengers while construction is taking place in the terminal’s lobby area.

Airport Manager Billi McRoberts said July produced 1,529 enplanements, which is an increase of 28.8 percent from last year when there were 1,187 for the same month. So far this year there has been 9,807 total enplanements compared to 6,224 for the first seven months of 2012. McRoberts said once the airport reaches the 10,000 enplanement plateau, the airport will be eligible for a $1 million subsidy from the federal government.

Last year the airport received the subsidy because it produced 12,654 enplanements. McRoberts said she believes passenger numbers will remain strong for the rest of 2013. She said part of the reason for her optimism is air service provider SkyWest is offering reasonable prices to fly out of Alpena.

“I think the number will continue to remain strong, particularly because the ticket prices remain low,” McRoberts said. “The round trip tickets are a real bargain and people are taking advantage of them.”

Because of the increase in the amount of activity at the airport, renovations have been needed to accommodate the passengers once they have been screened by security. Currently there is a small holding area that can hold about 12 passengers who have cleared security procedures. As a result of the limited space the screening process has been bogged down and more time is needed to get everyone on board the plane. McRoberts said a new holding area is going to be built that will be able to keep as many as 40 customers until they can board the flight.

The new holding area will be built at the other end of the terminal from where it is currently. McRoberts said the current area will be used as a luggage area where customers can retrieve their bags once construction is complete. Very little of the cost of the project will fall to the county McRoberts said. She said the airport had received a state block grant for $200,000 to use for the improvements and the county only needs to provide $5,000 as a match. She said the bidding process for the job is under way and she hopes construction can start this fall.

“We hope construction can begin on Oct. 1, but it appears it is going to take a little longer to have it completed than what we expected,” McRoberts said. “Right now it is looking like it might be done about Dec. 1.”

McRoberts doesn’t think the construction will affect the number of enplanements. She said a meeting will take place where plans will be discussed on how best to service the travelers, so the impact of the projects are minimal on them.

“There may be some minor inconveniences, but we are going to accommodate our customers as best we can.” McRoberts said. “There may be a limited amount of seating and for some and things may not be as clean as they usually are, but I think people realize these things happen when there is construction. We’ll do everything we can to make their experience as pleasant as possible.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.