Change in SkyWest schedule made with local input

ALPENA – The decision to eliminate flights to Minneapolis from Alpena County Regional Airport was made after careful consideration from air service provider SkyWest and local leaders in Alpena. Information obtained in a leakage study paid for by the county also played a role in the modified schedule.

By removing the Minneapolis flight, SkyWest was able to adjust its schedule to include a morning flight and an evening flight to and from Detroit, which it hopes will accommodate travelers better.

Currently seven of the 12 SkyWest flights are dedicated to Minneapolis and five to Detroit. There is no weekend flight to Detroit, but that will change in October when there will be an evening flight on Saturday and Sunday. All of the proposed changes are contingent on the United States Department of Transportation’s decision to accept SkyWest’s proposal to continue its essential air service at Alpena County Regional Airport.

Brad Roson, SkyWest director of network planning, said community leaders in Alpena, as well as airline officials, were in talks about what schedule would best suit the majority of travelers in the region. He said the airline has been operating in Alpena for two years and has a good grip on what people want. He said he believes the move to 12 Detroit flights a week should please most of them.

“It was a culmination of communications between us, the airport manager, economic development leaders, the mayor and the county. We were all in the loop,” Roson said. “We now have two years of experience in the market and there is a significant amount of demand for flights to Detroit. It has been manifesting itself and the numbers to Detroit are almost always stronger. We are matching the schedule to the patterns of demand.”

The new flight times in Alpena will begin in October. They will include a flight that leaves Alpena for Detroit Metro Airport at 10:15 a.m. and another at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday flights will depart at 5:30 p.m.

Mayor Matt Waligora said there was a meeting about six months ago that was attended by Commissioners Cam Habermehl, Tom Mullaney, Alpena Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krawczak, Chamber Economic Development Director Jim Klarich, Airport Manager Billi McRoberts and himself to discuss what the community deserves or wants from SkyWest. Waligora said they all had heard concerns about the current schedule and shared hopes of adding a better selection of departure times to Detroit. He said nobody wanted to do away with the Minneapolis flight, but did want to explore ways to find a more favorable schedule for flyers wishing to go to Detroit.

“We decided to ask SkyWest how we could get a more suitable schedule and they recommended the leakage study,” Waligora said. “Once it was done it was sent to the airline and that got the ball rolling. No one ever stood up and said we don’t want the flight to Minnesota. That wasn’t our focus at all. Our focus was to address what the people we deal with want and that was an earlier Detroit flight.”

Waligora said there never were any public meeting or public input session held because the Detroit flights always have been a concern to many locally. He said the DOT was aware of the concerns and still is.

“Since the beginning that was the biggest concern and what the letters to the DOT indicated. They are all on record,” Waligora said. “I know people who liked the flight to Minneapolis and enjoyed that capability, but a greater number of people, I believe, preferred to have more flights and earlier flights to Detroit.”

Klarich said he attended the meeting, but really didn’t have a role in the decision-making process. He said the move was made from public input locally and data from the leakage study.

I was involved just a hair, ” Klarich said. “The move was identified from a strategic standpoint from information that was gathered from the results of the study.

Roson said SkyWest is committed to Alpena long-term and will continually review passenger data and local flight schedules. He said he believes the new contract with Alpena will be for two years and the possibility of adding Minneapolis flight again in the future will depend on the customers’ needs.

“It is something we could revisit,” Roson said. “If traffic starts growing and the need arises we can look at that option again.”

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.