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7/24/2013 12:01:00 AM
Task Force looks to boost air service at Pellston Airport
Jessica Evans
News Manager

For more than 25 years, one group of concerned business leaders has been committed to enhancing and advancing air service at the Pellston Regional Airport. This group, the Air Service Task Force, consists of a committee of business people representing seven chambers of commerce throughout the area, including St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City, Cheboygan, Indian River, Harbor Springs and Petoskey.

According to Air Service Task Force committee member and Petoskey Chamber of Commerce executive director Carlin Smith, the group was formed to raise local funds, in order to qualify for federal grant money. Since its inception, the committee has raised money to contribute to projects such as terminal improvements, free parking services, marketing and promotion of the airport, and building good relationships with the airlines.

The group typically maintains a cash balance in their account which is used for airport needs as they arise.

"This is a group of people that can be mobilized with relative ease when an issue comes up," Smith said.

He noted the county has done a good job of creating a master plan for Pellston Regional Airport and anticipating upcoming needs.

"Some years the impact we have on the airport is minimal, yet some years we have a huge impact," Smith said. "But it's still good to have these funds available for the airport in case it's needed."

The Air Service Task Force funds are currently in need of replenishing, Smith said. The balance has dropped significantly in recent years, and in 2012, funds all but ran dry. Smith noted donations by the public and businesses are welcome which would help bolster the fund.

"We're also always looking at how we can improve air service in the area and would also welcome comments and insight from the general public so we can learn how to better do this," he said. "We would like to know of any issues people run into, so we can communicate those to Delta, and provide the best air service possible."

Kelley Atkins, Pellston Regional Airport manager, agreed.

"Our goal is to make it as easy as possible to use our airport," Atkins said. "In many ways we offer the convenience of being 10 or 15 minutes away from home so people don't have to stay in a hotel the night before, and we also have free parking. All of these things add up when you're flying."

It's no secret the airlines have faced some challenges over the past several years. This has resulted in some changes for Pellston Regional Airport, however, according to Atkins, the airport has adjusted and remains in good shape.

"Previously, the thinking on the part of the airlines was that they would run at 50-percent capacity and offer eight flights a day. Well, now they run 100-percent full and have less flights; usually three per day,"Atkins explained. "This is due to operating costs, but it works out well. We are healthy, and our passenger numbers are up."

Pellston Regional Airport has seen its number of passengers increase fairly significantly in 2012. In 2011, the airport hosted some 45,422 passengers. In 2012, that number rose by more than 4,000 passengers. Numbers look promising for 2013, as well, with passenger rates up 26-percent compared to this time last year.

"We're improving our numbers, and a lot of that has to do with the economy," Atkins said. "The darker days are behind us."

He noted the airport is in good condition equipment and facility wise and continues to upkeep the facility and maintain the best support of air service possible.

In regard to the Air Service Task Force, Atkins noted that it is a fantastic resource for the airport.

"A service group like this that is made up of prominent business people within the community is a great tool in the airline's back pocket," Atkins said. "They represent the commitment the community has to air service. They do a great job of promoting this airport. We're very lucky, because there are many communities that do not have a group like this."

Those who are interested in supporting the Air Service Task Force can do so through monetary donations or by providing insight as how to better improve airport/airline operations. For more information, call 231-347-4150 or 231-539-8441.

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