Airport sees bounce-back performance numbers

MANISTEE — January was a bounce-back month in terms of performance for Manistee County Blacker Airport, its authority learned on Monday.

On the heels of an unusually low on-time flight rate in December, Blacker returned to its typical trend, and then some, to kick off 2018.

“It was a very good month,” said airport director Barry Lind, delivering his monthly report to authority members. “There were no canceled flights in January and only 9 percent were delayed, which were all pretty much on Jan. 1, 2 and 3.

“For a winter month, it’s actually phenomenal to have a 91 percent on-time departure rate.”

January’s numbers overwhelmingly exceed the anomaly that was December, in which just 44 percent of Blacker’s flights were on time — the lowest recorded rate for the airport in the last six years. The majority of December’s performance issues were mechanical in nature, Lind said, causing nearly 50 percent of flights to be delayed and 7 percent canceled — the highest cancellation rate recorded since September of 2016.

January’s on-time rate (91 percent) was the highest recorded since April of last year.

While performance spiked, Lind reported the month’s passenger numbers didn’t budge compared to January of last year.

“We were basically flat with last year’s numbers,” Lind said, citing 438 total passengers (enplaned and deplaned) in January as compared to 439 in 2017. “That’s two months in a row now where we’ve seen little to no growth (in monthly comparisons from the previous year) and I’m actually anticipating the next couple months are going to follow that same pattern.”

Due in part to the performance issues, Blacker recorded a 2-percent decrease in total passengers in December compared to December of 2016 (691 vs. 707). That marked the first time in 20 consecutive months the airport didn’t see passenger growth in the monthly comparisons.

Lind said he doesn’t expect to see growth return until the peak season begins to pick up, as scheduling becomes clearer for Blacker and its commercial service provider, Public Charters.

“For March, we’re significantly down (in bookings); probably about 20 percent from a year ago,” he said. “The issue there has been the fact that the schedule for March didn’t get published until into January. … We now have a schedule, as of last Thursday, published through June 20.”

In January, the airport authority went through the bid process for Essential Air Service as its contract with Public Charters expires in July. Ultimately, the authority elected to continue its relationship with the current provider.

A proposal to enter a renewed two-year agreement for “Alternate” Essential Air Service with Public Charters has been sent to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the agency ultimately charged with approving Blacker’s next commercial service.

In the meantime, Public Charters has been negotiating contracts with aircraft operators, its current agreement with Corporate Flight Management (CFM).

“Public Charters has a contract with CFM, who has been operating with us now for about four years, to basically continue operating through June 20,” Lind explained. “The current plan for Public Charters … assuming DOT accepts our proposal, will be to start with Ultimate Jet on June 21.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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