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Continued: Minnesota's regional airports are seeing signs of a resurgence

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 4, 2014 - 10:00 AM

When SkyWest and United team up on $186 round-trip flights on 50-seat jets to O’Hare, Goskowicz and his workers can forget the driving, parking and waiting.

“Mileage will be 10 miles instead of 160, parking here is free and if you’re last in line, you’ll have 49 people ahead of you,” he said. “That’s the worst it will ever be, so you won’t need to be there an hour-and-a-half early.”

To lure SkyWest, St. Cloud had to offer $1 million in revenue guarantees that includes a $750,000 federal grant aimed at small airports trying to revive service.

“We were the poster child for extremely under-served airports,” said Bill Towle, the St. Cloud airport director.

When Delta pulled out Jan. 1, 2010, the airport had no regular flights for nearly three years until late 2012, when Allegiant Air started what is now three flights a week to Mesa, Ariz., and one to Florida.

St. Cloud, local businesses and surrounding counties have raised $100,000 of a pledged $250,000 toward the $1 million guarantee, including a bunch of waived fees that will keep SkyWest from paying terminal rent, landing charges and fuel tariffs.

“We hope we’ll never have to tap into that guarantee,” Kleis said. “But it helps the airline get past the apprehension of new service.”

But even he admits changing people’s travel patterns might take some time before this becomes profitable. “We might not be able to operate without a loss at the start until the word gets,” the mayor said.

Regional authority next?

Kleis said he’ll start pushing this spring for Sherburne, Benton and Stearns counties to enter into a cost-sharing regional authority with St. Cloud to maintain the airport. He says it’s a matter of fairness.

“We’ll consider it, but I’d make no assumptions what the outcome will be,” said Sherburne County Commissioner Felix Schmiesing, whose district includes the airport.

Stearns County Commissioner Leigh Lenzmeier, who leads a Northstar corridor oversight panel, dreams of a day when people along the rail line in Fridley, Coon Rapids, Anoka or Elk River could become part of a reverse commute.

First, the Northstar line would have to be extended to St. Cloud — a big if.

“Business travelers from Fridley … wouldn’t have to drive themselves nuts getting across the metro and paying astronomic parking fees,” he said. “They could hop on the train and fly out of here much cheaper.”

That scenario is a long way from becoming a reality. But Bob White, a retired St. Cloud finance executive, flew to his Arizona winter home recently on the Allegiant jet out of St. Cloud.

“I talk to the people on the plane and none are from St. Cloud,” he said. “They’re from Sauk Centre, Brainerd, Alexandria. Anyone coming through St. Cloud to get to the airport in the Twin Cities will start to realize want a boon this is.”

 

Curt Brown • 612-673-4767

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    Monday March 3, 2014

    A look at passenger numbers for Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud

  • Passengers watched the arrival of a flight from Phoenix in the terminal at the St. Cloud Regional Airport in anticipation of boarding.

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has 33 million annual travelers, but the waiting area at the St. Cloud airport, above, was full nevertheless, waiting for a flight to Arizona. Regional airports are seeing signs of recovery.

  • Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport serves 14 airlines

    Duluth: Delta, Allegiant, United

    Rochester: Delta, American Eagle

    St. Cloud: Allegiant, United in May

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