Blacker sees record high passengers for March

MANISTEE — Following a significant dip in passengers for February, the Manistee County Blacker Airport had a bounce-back month with an historically high count in March.

“The 632 (total passengers) we saw are the best March numbers ever for the airport,” said director Barry Lind, during his monthly report to the airport authority on Monday. “In February, we were actually down 29 percent versus a year ago, so we kicked off March with a fare sale.

“I still anticipated we’d be about flat (compared to March 2017), but (bookings) just kept coming in, even through the last two weeks of the month,” Lind said. “We ended up up 13 percent (from last year). So, we did very, very well.

“The fare sale is really what drove that,” he added. “Without doing something along those lines, we would have probably been down about 25 percent in March.”

The low passenger numbers to start the year can be attributed, in part, to recent delays in releasing seasonal flight schedules. At the time, those delays were due to the uncertainty of Blacker’s air service, as the authority underwent the bid process for penitential providers as its contract with Public Charters expires in July.

In January, authority members heard proposals from a trio of Essential Air Service (EAS) providers, as well as Public Charters. Ultimately, they elected to continue its six-year relationship with the current provider, through the “Alternate” EAS program.

Alternate EAS grants funds directly to the airport authority instead of the air carrier, localizing the recruitment of and agreement with air service providers that would not otherwise meet standard EAS guidelines. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), however, must approve an authority’s Alternate EAS proposal.

On Monday, Lind updated authority members on the status of their proposal for continued service with Public Charters.

“The order and grant agreement have been drafted and are through legal review,” he said, citing correspondence with DOT last week. “They said they are currently waiting on fund certification, which should be complete soon, and then it will go to the front office for final review and signature.”

Lind said while the agreement hasn’t officially been approved, Public Charters and aircraft operator Ultimate Jet have a contract in place for summer service, assuming it will.

“Based on the initial feedback that things seem to be going well (in the grant process), they did contract for the summer,” he said, “and with contracts in place, that allowed us to publish our summer schedule.

“The schedule is out now, through Sept. 4, with Ultimate Jet operating their 30-seat (Dornier 328 Jet) starting on June 21 and going through the current length of the schedule,” he said. “The plan is that after that summer date, we’ll be switching back to 19-seat turbo prop operation.”

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