Record number of passengers: Frontier, Great Lakes airlines gives airport highest single-month count of travelers

Manistee Blacker Airport has been very busy.

By KEN GRABOWSKI
Associate Editor
MANISTEE — Manistee County Blacker Airport director Barry Lind gave the airport authority some very positive news on Monday morning in regards to passenger counts for the first few weeks that Frontier Airlines has served as the new carrier.
Lind told the board that even though Frontier only provided about 13 days of service in April. However, when their numbers are combined with the ones from Great Lakes Airlines it was the best single month ever at the airport with 1,193 passengers. The breakdown for Great Lakes was 141 passengers out and 171 in, and for Frontier, 486 out and 389 in.
“It has been going great so far, and in the time that Frontier has been servicing us they have not canceled a flight,” said Lind. “They were a little late a couple of times, but that was due to some problems with the icing equipment here. For next month, based on bookings, we are projecting about 26 1/2 passengers a flight  and that would mean 2,500 passengers for next month compared to the 565 we had last year for this month, so that is about 4.5 times as many as last year at this time.”
Lind pointed out that if the local airport could average 1,100 passengers per month their appropriation from the Federal Aeronautics Association (FAA) for the year would go from $150,000 to $1 million for capital projects around the airport.
“I know we will be able to hold those numbers for June, July and August, but we will have to see how we do in the fall,” said Lind.
Airport Authority member Ross Spencer said it would benefit the airport authority if there was some way they could track where the customers are coming from to fly out of Manistee County Blacker Airport.
“We need to find out where they are coming from and why?” said Spencer. “There are so many unknowns, and it would be helpful if we found out if there are businesses using us.”
Lind  told the board that he looked at the projected fares for the upcoming months and compared them to the cost of Grand Rapids and Traverse City. The airport director said Frontier came out with some new fares that make Manistee a better bargain in May and July, but then in June the other airports make up ground.
“Frontier just came out with some new summer fares that I think will keep them lower here through October,” said Lind
In other news from his report, Lind gave the authority an update on the capital projects that they had scheduled for the upcoming year. Originaly they planned to build four Unit T-Hangers to place planes, replace the hanger pavements, install a new beacon and deal with the parking lot area.
Since Frontier has come into the local airport, the parking area has been overflowing and Lind said they might have to shift the priorities on that list with the state.
“What I would recommend is waiting until next year with the beacon light,” said Lind. “What has happened with the parking lot is an unexpected issue, but a pleasant issue. Our engineer Bob Peckham of Peckham Engineering stopped by and he was surprised at the number of cars.”
Lind said he expects the project will cost between $60,000 and $80,000 and it would give us between 40 to 60 new parking spaces. They presently have 57 parking spaces in the main lot, and 24 on the side of the east side of the airport building.
“People seem to forget about the ones on the side, and right now they are parking partially on the grass,” said Lind.
Another area Lind was concerned about at last month’s meeting was if they were going to need additional seating space in the terminal. He said in assessing the situation he no longer feels that is necessary.
“I have seen it the few times we have about 30 to 35 passengers and it doesn’t seem to be a problem,” said Lind. “It’s not an ideal situation, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”
Lind, with some assistance from authority member Ross Spencer and Paul Schulert, gave a report on the rental car status at the airport. Mowry Leasing has been handling it for the local airport, but with the increased passengers there is a greater demand to rent vehicles.
“We had a good give-and-take meeting with them, and now we have a better idea of their position,” said Spencer. “We are doing a follow-up one on May 19 with them.”
Schulert said the airport authority members spoke about their needs and Mowry officials, that included Jim Mowry and Paul Bosschem,  told them about their concerns. Schulert said that in the good weather, the demands for car rentals would be much greater.
“We are going to talk more about flexibility, and to get access on line,” said Schulert.
They pointed out that at the present time there isn’t any mention at the online site that cars are available to rent out of the Manistee County Blacker Airport. Lind said having availability of cars makes a difference when people select an airport.
“I had one guy call me and ask if he could rent a car, and when he couldn’t, he said he was going to fly into Traverse City instead.
The airport director also told the board that Frontier Airlines had officially signed the lease and that all that was needed now was the signature of airport authority chair Ervin Kowalski to make it official. He also told the board that Frontier had requested permission to list Manistee as the Manistee/Ludington location on their website.
“They feel that by having both names on there it will be a bigger draw because some may not know where Manistee is located, but they might have heard of Ludington,” said Lind.
The authority approved the request on a 6-0 vote.
Authority members were also told by the director that the open house and business after hours to mark Frontier’s arrival in Manistee was a huge success. He said things are going better than he even expected with the new airline.
“We still have the extra staff here from Milwaukee, but we have hired four new local employees and they will begin training next Monday,” said Lind. “Our advanced bookings are strong and that is good to see.”
Authority members also heard that they are continuing to work on a marketing plan until the end of the year. He said they also have secured co-op advertising funds from Little River Casino and Resort and are looking for others.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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