Airport: back to daily service in June

BARRY LIND

MANISTEE TWP. – Daily air service between Manistee Blacker Airport and Chicago Midway has been an elusive goal, but Public Charters executives are hoping to realize it this summer.

“Starting June 24, there will be daily service between Manistee and Chicago, which we know is much needed for the airport and the community of Manistee. We’ll use the 30-seat (plane) for the summer peak, and then we will go back to the 19-seat (plane) after Labor Day,” said Public Charters President Jim Gallagher.

Currently, Public Charters operates four flights a week between Blacker Airport and Chicago Midway using a 19-seat passenger plane provided by the Tennessee-based carrier Corporate Flight Management. If its plane were to fly more often, CFM would need the approval of the United States Department of Transportation

Manistee County Blacker Airport Director Barry Lind and Gallagher both said that CFM has petitioned DOT for approval of seven flights per week.

“It’s in DOT’s hands now. Pressure is being applied as reasonably as possible to try to get DOT to move forward on that. There is a process. It can take awhile,” Lind told the Manistee County Airport Authority at its Monday meeting.

The airport needs to schedule an approximately 30-day window between getting approval for daily service and the first daily flight in order to give people time to plan ahead. Otherwise, Lind said, those early flights will be completely empty. If approval comes from DOT in late May, that puts the first daily flights in late June.

Getting stable air service at the airport for any extended length of time has proven difficult, with Public Charters shutting down flights for a month last fall after Aerodynamics Incorporated, its old air carrier, abruptly pulled out of its contract. Public Charters then negotiated a contract with CFM, and service resumed on Nov. 15 with CFM operating flights.

In the months before ADI pulled out, Public Charters gradually built up to daily service, flying six flights a week during the summer 2012 and seven flights a week during the early fall of that year.

According to Gallagher, if Public Charters can “reestablish the marketplace” for air travel to and from Manistee, the company will continue to use the 30-seat plane on seven flights a week throughout the fall and winter.

“We hope to build a loyalty program in Manistee and deliver a quality service — last month, we had 100 percent on-time performance. If we can continue to operate well and get people to Chicago at a good fare, we think that will grow the marketplace. Once the marketplace gets re-established, we will keep the 30-seater in Manistee,” explained Gallagher.

In other news, the Manistee County Airport Authority unanimously approved plans to contract with Prien Newhof, of Grand Rapids, to expand the building housing snow removal equipment, as well as to acquire a new snow sweeping machine. At its last meeting, the board had postponed action, concerned that battles over the federal budget would keep the Federal Aviation Administration from releasing grant money to the Manistee County Airport Authority.

“That is not really a concern right now because the budget battles in Washington, D.C. have been resolved for this year. Now the battle lines are drawn for next year,” said Lind.

The Manistee County Airport Authority meets again at 10 a.m. on May 13 at Blacker Airport.

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