Cleared for take-off….almost

The passenger waiting area at Blacker Airport will be busy again starting May 24 when Public Charters begins offering flights to Chicago’s Midway Airport. Frontier Airlines ended service to the airport on March 11. (Dave Yarnell/News Advocate)

MANISTEE TOWNSHIP — Tickets are now on sale for commercial flights leaving from Manistee County Blacker Airport for Chicago’s Midway Airport. The initial flight has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon, May 24.

But, airport manager Barry Lind said he is a bit nervous as he continues to wait for officials of the United States Department of Transportation to sign the Alternate Essential Air Service agreement with Manistee County.

Last month the Manistee County Airport Authority approved the draft of a two-year grant agreement with the United States Department of Transportation that will provide nearly $4.2 million to the airport for Alternate Essential Air Service and also a contract with Public Charters Inc., the company that will be providing the service between Blacker and Chicago’s Midway Airport.

Frontier Airlines served Blacker from mid-April 2011 to March 11, pulling out early because the airline moved out of its hub in Milwaukee. The airline utilized a six-month escape clause in its contract to end service before the conclusion of its two-year contract.

Airport manager Barry Lind said he will feel a lot better when the signed contract arrives.

“One always, in the back of their mind, says, ‘what could go wrong,’ until you’ve got the contract signed,” Lind said, adding that conversations with the department of transportation on Friday progressed to the point that going ahead with the May 24 start date seemed possible.

“The indication was on Friday that it was either going to be end of the day on Friday or first thing today (that we’d receive the contract),” Lind said Monday afternoon. “I haven’t heard from them yet, but there was enough information provided on Friday that gave the air carrier enough confidence to go ahead and start selling tickets.”

Lind said that there’s not a lot that needs to be done to get the passenger terminal side of the airport building ready for Charter One, and thought they would be in soon to get that work started.

“We’re fortunate that it’s approaching summer rather than winter,” Lind said. “There would be a lot more things to worry about if we were going into winter operations.”

Tickets for flights can be purchased through the websites www.flymanistee.com or www.publiccharters.com. Lind said that the popular travel website travelocity will have the tickets on sale by Thursday. He added that at the “flymanistee” Facebook page there is a promotional code that will give customers a special $50 one-way rate to Midway.

Public Charters will, at least at first and during busy summer seasons, provide jet service via a 50-seat Embraer EMB 145 jet aircraft, then later revert to a 30-seat EMB 120 turboprop plane. If demand decreases during the winter months, service could be provided by a 19-seat turboprop.

“Our goal is to hit 10,000 enplanements per year,” Public Charters CEO Jim Gallagher said during a meeting with the Manistee County Airport Authority. “The goal is to not ever reduce down to the minimum 19-seat aircraft. We’re hoping to keep it at a threshold of 30 seats year-round.”

Lind said the plan is to hold a special open house at the airport on May 24 to see the first jet off to Chicago.

“That day the schedule is going to be modified a little and we’ll actually start off with the flight in the afternoon,” he said. “The first flight will be the outbound flight at 4 p.m. The normal schedule will be for the first flight to leave (Manistee) at 8:15 in the morning.”

avatar

Posted by Dave Yarnell

Dave was formerly the News Advocate features writer and retired in November 2013.

Leave a Reply