Airport board talks service, aviation at planning meetingImproving commercial air service and expanding airport services for general aviation dominated discussion at a strategic planning meeting of the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority Saturday.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
Improving commercial air service and expanding airport services for general aviation dominated discussion at a strategic planning meeting of the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority Saturday.
Several internal weaknesses and external threats in the analysis centered on Great Lakes Aviation, the airport’s sole commercial air service provider.
“Our vision would be totally different” from that of Great Lakes, said Jim Boyd, chairman of the JRAA. “It’s a mismatch.”
Great Lakes receives an Essential Air Service government subsidy to provide commercial air service to Jamestown. The Cheyenne, Wyo., company was the sole viable bidder for the contract, which expires after March 2014.
Since Great Lakes took over from previous provider Delta Air Lines, boarding numbers at the JRA have plummeted.
“If you look at where we were a year ago in January — well, even in December we were probably around 600,” Boyd said. “And we hit 300 last month.”
The 300 number has been the high point for service under Great Lakes, after boardings fell to 185 per month soon after the airline took over in March 2012.
“The market’s still there. We just lost half of it or better,” Boyd said. “The market didn’t dry up here. The market share has just been lost.”
Factors involved in the sudden drop included reports of poor reliability, with many late and cancelled flights, as well as high prices for flights through Minneapolis to other airports. Ticket prices to Minneapolis remained low.
In addition, Delta had briefly been utilizing jets to fly to Jamestown, and Great Lakes uses smaller turboprop planes, some of which do not have bathrooms.
Continuing concerns with Great Lakes service include the lack of SkyMiles, which were supposed to be provided as part of an agreement with Delta and Great Lakes.
In addition, discussions have indicated that baggage transfers between airlines could become an issue in the future.
Price and service are also continuing issues.
The JRAA added “airline customer service falls short of expectation in comparison to competitor” to its list of weaknesses for its strategic plan.
“We’re going to keep pushing on Great Lakes. We’re going to keep pushing for other opportunities for other bidders (for the next contract),” Boyd said.
Most of the rest of the strategic planning discussion revolved around enhancing the airport’s general aviation services.
Currently the JRA offers fueling services as well as a mechanic, but some other services are lacking, such as flight instruction, charter flights, general maintenance and plane interior work. These services are in demand, and though some are offered, there is more demand than supply.
In addition, the airport lacks adequate hangar space for general aviation, and some existing hangars have not been adequately maintained by their users.
Options for hangars include attracting investors to build and lease hangars or the airport building and leasing hangars itself, said Keith Veil, a member of the JRAA.
The group also discussed adding an agricultural spraying pad to the airport for crop dusters. The pad would contain any chemicals spilled during loading.
Veil spoke of the importance of bringing flight schools and flight training to the JRA.
“We have got the best training airport in North Dakota, honestly,” Veil said. “Of all the places you fly into, all across the country, here is the nicest facility with (little) traffic … we have all the requirements for training.”
A few more projects are already underway at the airport, both discussed on Saturday. They include the elimination of wetlands on airport grounds, which reduces the likelihood of bird strikes on airplanes, and planning for future development opportunities on JRA land.
Katie Andersen, Jamestown mayor and member of the JRAA, said she wanted to make sure that the group’s goals were specific and measurable.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be
reached at 701-952-8453
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