Change with counts affects numbers at airport

ALPENA – The Alpena County Regional Airport and air service provider SkyWest Airlines have been able to locate the cause of continuing declining enplanements at the airport.

Prior to June 2013 travelers traveling to Minneapolis were able to fly from Detroit Metro Airport to Minnesota via Alpena for a cheaper rate than what it costs to fly non-stop from Detroit. By using SkyWest and the Alpena route, passengers from Detroit were counted as enplanements for Alpena, which boosted numbers.

Former air service provider, Delta Airlines, which offers direct flights to Minneapolis from Detroit, utilized its right to forbid passengers to take the Alpena route to Minnesota, and as a result the enplanements no longer count in Alpena and SkyWest’s favor.

Airport Manager Billie McRoberts said it is unfortunate passengers from Detroit can’t utilize the Alpena connection any longer, but there is nothing SkyWest or the airport can do about it. She said she believes the number of people taking advantage of the flights locally is still strong, however.

“It’s not that people aren’t using the service, but now the passengers who used to be on the plane when it arrived aren’t there or being counted,” McRoberts said. “Delta put a stop to it and SkyWest isn’t very happy about it. We’re not very happy about it either, but Delta is fully within its rights to do what it did.”

In 2013 the airport ended the year with 15,893 enplanements, despite numbers dropping during the last four months. Through the first three months of this year there have been 2,806, a drop from 3,830.

So far in 2013 the airport has yet to meet or exceed monthly enplanement numbers posted for January through March of last year. Last month there were 1,035 enplanements, compared to 1,417 in March 2013. The Detroit passengers were included in the March total from last year.

For the last three years the airport has surpassed 10,000 enplanements, which makes it eligible for a $1 million subsidy from the Federal Aviation Administration. McRoberts said she is hopeful that goal can be reached in 2014, even with the loss of enplanements from Detroit.

“We are still on target for 10,000 and we fully expect to hit it,” McRoberts said. “When you look at the numbers the decline is not showing the true picture of what has taken place and what is happening.”

When SkyWest was awarded the Alpena air service it was on a two-year agreement and when it expires, another bid process will be conducted through the FAA. After seeing the dip in enplanements, SkyWest recommended the airport do a $10,000 “leakage” study that would help reveal why passenger numbers declined suddenly and drastically. It could also show how many travelers are utilizing other airports, as well as airlines, and why. McRoberts said the news about the Detroit passengers was not found in the study,.

“The study is about one, but right now I only have preliminary information and nothing that can be shared,” McRoberts said. “I should be able to deliver a report soon however.”

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